Nebraska Supreme Court Declares Smoking in Cigar Shops Unconstitutional

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In one of the more strongly worded rulings against smoking, the Nebraska State Supreme Court ruled on Friday that an exemption to the 2008 Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act that allowed consumers to smoke in cigar lounges and tobacco retail outlets was unconstitutional.

The decision, which can be found here, comes in response to a 2009 lawsuit filed by Big John’s Billiards of Omaha after the state banned smoking in all public building and private businesses but granted exemptions for cigar bars and tobacco retailers, as well as some hotel rooms.

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In its majority opinion, the court found that there that “there is no difference in circumstances between tobacco retail outlets and all other public places  and places of employment so as to justify the expediency of diverse legislation and that the exemption in § 71-5730(3) is therefore unconstitutional special legislation.” The opinion goes on to state that “the mere fact that tobacco retail outlets sell only tobacco products does not distinguish them in any substantial way from other public places or places of employment. And allowing patrons of such shops to smoke simply because it is convenient does not comport with the purpose of the Act, which is to protect the public and employees from the danger of second-hand smoke.”

In effect, the court said that the exemptions were “special favors” to certain types of businesses, something prohibited by state law and thus unconstitutional.

The ruling was not unanimous though, as Justice William B. Cassell authored the dissenting opinion, saying that “the majority fails to discern the reasonable doubt that seems so plain to me” in regards to the “substantial difference in circumstances” of cigar lounges and tobacco stores.

According to JournalStar.com, there are 11 cigar bars in the state who now face a bleak future, as their specialized liquor licenses won’t be renewed when they come due in October and no new licenses will be issued. Retail tobacco stores will be able to stay open and do business as usual, with the exception that customers won’t be allowed to light up while inside the store, though specifics about how both type of establishments will move forward are yet to be announced.

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Patrick Lagreid
About the author

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for MLB.com, plus I'm a voice over artist. I previously covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.

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