Let me preface this by saying, I spoke with Josh Rushlo, the Oliva Account Executive for the region, regarding much of this, as he is way more versed than I am when it comes to this topic. He provided some history, but please note unless Josh’s name is mentioned, the thoughts below are solely mine and not representative of Josh or Oliva.
Minnesota passed the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act in 1975. Fast forward pretty much thirty years. In 2005, St. Paul’s City Councilman Dave Thune proposed a smoking ban and two years later it passed. In the time in between, Minneapolis and a host of other cities passed smoking bans. This led state lawmakers to pass the Freedom to Breathe Act in 2007 amending the 1975 legislation by placing much more restrictions on the consumption and sales of tobacco products. There are two main contentions of the act being debated, the use of “sampling” and where smoking is allowed. The Freedom to Breathe Act does not limit smoking in the following areas:
- Outdoor smoking, regardless of distance from building openings
- Private places, such as private homes, residences or automobiles when they are not being used as places of employment
- Sleeping rooms of hotels and motels
- Cabs of commercial motor vehicles that weigh over 26,000 pounds
- Family farm buildings, farm trucks and equipment, if certain conditions are met
- Patients of licensed residential healthcare facilities in designated separate, enclosed areas that meet applicable regulations
- Patients in a locked psychiatric unit in a separated well-ventilated area, as approved by the treating physician
- Tobacco product shops – when customers are sampling tobacco products
- Approved scientific study participants
- Traditional Native American ceremonies
- Theatrical productions, that is, actors and actresses who are smoking as part of the theatrical performance
- Disabled Veterans Rest Camp in Washington County
It’s very clear though, just because it doesn’t ban smoking in those areas, it also doesn’t protect our right to enjoy cigars. The act is also explicit that local governments are allowed to impose further restrictions on any areas. In addition, to the phrase “sampling”, “Tobacco product shops” is also another term not somewhat controversial, Minnesota defined this as meeting all of the following conditions to allow for sampling:
- The retail establishment must have an entrance door opening directly to the outdoors.
- Greater than 90 percent of the shop’s gross revenue must be from the sale of tobacco, tobacco products or smoking related accessories.
- “Tobacco Products Shop” does not mean a tobacco department or section of any individual business establishment with any type of liquor, food or restaurant license.
Just for the record, Minnesota has the third highest wholesale tax without a cap, 70% per cigar. More on that later…
Enough With the History… sort of
The tobacco shops fought to get the “sampling” amendment added to the legislation, without it, smoking in shops would have seized. Not all were in favor of this though. Josh acknowledged that in 2007 when the Freedom to Breathe Act was being passed, some understood that creating this grey area for “sampling”, it not only allowed for smoking in shops to continue, but left the door open for further legislation, i.e. what’s happening now.
Fast Forward to Today
Minneapolis City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (above) is proposing various amendments to the “sampling” grey area. The reason? Who knows. It’s hard to find anything in her background that points to any reason why she might all of a sudden push for this. In a year in which the Republicans won big in what has been largely liberal Minnesota, it seems odd that someone seeking reelection would suddenly try to strengthen laws that had been long opposed by the right. However, according to Josh, the logic behind the proposed sampling restrictions is that someone might walk into a cigar shop, without knowing that it is a cigar shop, and have to deal with the smoke. No, I’m not kidding. That’s the logic. What get’s more ridiculous is that because of the 90% revenue requirement and the ban on liquor and food, a tobacco shop is a tobacco shop. Furthermore, citations have been issued to those employees who have lit up cigars in their workplace on more than one occasion because you guessed it, they are endangering their own health.
In the time being, the city wants more time to look at the effects of smoking in shops. At the same time, St. Paul has placed a moratorium on all new cigar shops while it decides on its own new smoking restrictions. Hookah lounges have emerged and are seen as part of the problem in regards to new legislation. The fear is that these two cities have empirically proven to have effects on the state as a whole, with many including Josh fearing that a new restriction would go statewide shortly thereafter.
What You Can Do
I’m not the largest fan of Cigar Rights of America (CRA) and have found them to be fairly ineffective. While they sent out a petition early this month, they haven’t been on the ground and were not in the meeting. They haven’t even updated their site with the latest news from three days ago. In a state where being a tobacconist is already pretty damn hard thanks to state taxes, if Mrs. Glidden gets her away – the death of the retail tobacconist would seem to loom closer and closer. As tobacconist pointed out at that hearing, imagine what competitive advantage a retail tobacconist would have over an online store if you couldn’t smoke inside. You can call Glidden at 612-396-2288 or email her at [email protected].
As it starts to get into the 40s here, I can’t imagine what it’s like up there… nor can I imagine not being able to smoke in a cigar shop, so if nothing else, try to contact the City Council so I don’t have to freeze my ass off the next time I’m up there.
Thanks to Josh for all of his help on this story. You can follow him on Twitter @OlivaJosh. (Image Credits: VirtualTourist, Minnesota.us, elizabethglidden.com).