After a pair of attempts to create licensed cigar bars and lounges in the state of Washington, a persistent group of retailers and potential cigar bar operators are hoping that the third time is finally a charm.
House Bill 1750 was originally introduced in February as part of the 2013 Regular Session and made it to the House Committee on Business & Financial Services where it passed by a vote of 9-6. However, that was as far as it would make it in that session. It was referred to the Appropriations Committee before being stalled as the Regular Session came to a close.
In Washington state, a bill remains alive for two sessions as long as it is not defeated, which has pushed it into this upcoming legislative session. The bill was reintroduced and retained in its present status in both the First and Third Special Sessions of the House, on May 13 and November 7, respectively, but no further action has been taken on it. It was introduced by Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-37) and co-sponsored by 14 of his colleagues who come from both sides of the aisle.
Joe Arundel, owner of Rain City Cigars in Seattle and President of the Cigar Association of Washington, said while he feels the bill has good momentum, there is still work to be done to address the concerns of some on the Appropriations Committee who have objections to the bill. He said that he and the CAW will be holding meetings with several representatives in the coming weeks to make their case for the bill’s passage.
House Bill 1750 was reworked from its original form in two key ways, making the licenses transferable and therefore making them even more of an asset for anyone who holds one and possibly spurring business owners to act early in the licensing process. The second change reduced the initial application fee and renewal fees, though they remain sizable. For cigar bars, the initial fee would be $19,000 for the first year and $7,000 for a renewal, a change from the previous fee of $17,000 for the first year and each subsequent renewal. For cigar lounges, the fees would be $7,000 for the first year and $2,500 per renewal, a change of $6,000 per year in the previous bill. The money raised by the licenses would go to funding the state’s smoking cessation helpline.
The bill only covers cigars and pipes – not cigarettes, meaning that a shop or bar owner would be required to prevent cigarette smoking in their establishment. Enforcement of the law, if passed, would be handled by the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
The proposal to create cigar bars and lounges has also drawn attention to the state’s November legalization of recreational marijuana, as there could be a move to create indoor marijuana smoking lounges at some point. The Revised Code of Washington prohibits all smoking in public places and workplaces without specification as to the type of smoke, so this cigar bar and lounge legislation could help set the groundwork for marijuana smoking lounges that could be developed in the future.
The first attempt at getting licensed cigar bars and lounges in Washington goes back to 2011, when House Bill 1683 was introduced. Between the regular and special sessions of 2011 and 2012, it was turned into an amendment on House Bill 2565, legislation that would have provided for the operation of roll your own cigarette machines at retail establishments. Through what Arundel referred to at the time as “parliamentary maneuvers,” the amendment was stripped in the wee hours of the special session and left to be reintroduced in January 2013.
The former governor of Washington, Christine Gregoire, had promised that should the bill make it to her desk, it would be swiftly vetoed, saying that she would never sign a bill that allowed indoor smoking. Gregoire is a staunch anti-tobacco advocate and was one of the key players in 1998’s Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement when she was Attorney General for the state. Gregoire has since termed out, with Jay Inslee now holding the Governor’s office after being elected in 2012. While a US Congressman, Inslee voted in April 2009 to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) to provide for the regulation of tobacco products by the Secretary of Health and Human Services through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however that legislation did provide for the exemption of the tobacco leaf and tobacco farms. However, he has yet to be as vocal an opponent of tobacco on the whole as Gregoire was, and Arundel has said that his election gave the push a “fresh approach.”
The Washington State Legislature will convene for Regular Session on January 13, 2014. Cigar smokers in Washintgon are being encouraged to voice their support of the bill by contacting their elected state officials through this site.