City amends smoke-free ordinance to allow cigar bar

By HASKEL BURNS,

After a contentious meeting Monday – and the strenuous objection of one councilwoman and several residents – Hattiesburg City Council members voted 4-1 Tuesday to amend a current ordinance to allow the operation of cigar bars in the city.

The amendment, which makes an exemption to the city’s ban on indoor smoking that was set into effect in 2007, states that 40 percent of the income at a cigar bar would have to come from tobacco-related sales. The amendment will go into effect in 30 days.

“Four other of the top 10 cities in the state who have comprehensive smoke-free ordinances have much broader exemptions,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “It sets (that) 40 percent threshold, so you couldn’t have a restaurant, or an existing bar, suddenly create a cigar bar within itself.

“There’s always an opportunity, if there has been interest in the community in having something like this in our downtown and other places, to potentially expand our commercial activity in other areas. And this idea has come forth.”

The idea of a premium cigar bar was pitched to the council last month by Matt Senge, majority shareowner of Smokin’ Aces Social Clubs in Ocean Springs. Senge is currently looking at two possible downtown locations in which to open the establishment: 325 Pine Street or 129 Walnut Street, in the Bakery Building.

All smoking would be limited to the inside of the building, but customers would be allowed to purchase cigars at the shop for consumption elsewhere in private. Cigarette smoking and vaping would not be allowed, but the shop would possibly offer a Cuban coffee bar, craft beer and wine.

In addition, any cigar bar would be required to locate in a stand-alone building, separated from any other establishments.

Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado, along with a couple representatives from local health organizations, spoke out against the idea of such an establishment, citing the health risks posed by second-hand smoke. Delgado provided the sole vote against the measure.

“People think of smoking premium cigars as a social activity that gives a certain amount of class or enjoyment to individuals, but you are luring individuals into a setting within which they can contract some of these health problems,” Delgado said. “Cigars contain the same carcinogenic compounds found in cigarettes, but in some of the materials that were provided to me, it’s more concentrated because you have a bigger item that conducts these chemicals into your lungs.

“I was surprised when this came up in a council meeting, because I remember the atmosphere when the idea of us becoming a smoke-free city was first introduced. This time, we’re trying to make it romantic and glamorous by saying Hattiesburg has a cigar bar.”

Delgado said council members and administration should think more carefully about what officials want for the city, especially since the city has long strived to tout itself as healthy.

“We have gone after ‘healthy Hattiesburg’ dollars for many years, because we have pursued grants and monies being induced into weight loss, and just being a healthy community period,” she said. “That would draw people into our community – we’re a retirement community, and we want people who retire to Hattiesburg to know that we are a city that promotes healthy living.

“I just think that we need to re-think this notion, because we need to consider young people who are coming along. When you have younger people, or people who can be influenced by this level of activity, then we’re creating a possibility that that individual can suffer some of the ill effects of indulging in this activity that’s going to cost them for the rest of their lives.”

Barker said individuals will take it upon themselves to make their own decisions when entering into an establishment like a cigar bar.

“I think that people have a right to make personal health decisions,” he said. “If we’re going to control everything somebody does, let’s just close catfish houses and steak houses, because those things are unhealthy as well.

“I do realized that there’s a secondhand element to (a cigar bar), but I think if you’re going to a cigar bar, then you’re accepting the fact that you may be exposed.”