Cigar sellers seek smoking ban exemption

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Business owners battled public health officials at the Capitol Thursday over a bill to change the state’s smoking ban.

The proposed law would create an exemption for cigar smokers by allowing smoking lounges in bars, restaurants and tobacco shops.

The exemption would not allow cigarette smoking in any of the lounges.

Tobacco shop owners would have to pay $5,000 for a license; restaurant or bar owners would be charged $15,000.

Most of that money would go to the state’s Basic Health Plan for low income residents.

Property owners would have to create well-ventilated areas with walls separating the lounges from the rest of the business.

Employees who work in the areas would be have to sign an agreement acknowledging they will be exposed to secondhand smoke.

“This law would be a step in the wrong direction,” said Department of Health Secretary Mary Selecky.

Selecky testified the cigar lounge exemption would make Washingtonians less healthy. She told says the fact the licenses would support health care for the needy still does not make it a good law.

“I want the government to leave me alone,” said Paul Mackey, owner of four El Gaucho restaurants.

Mackey said when the state’s ban on smoking in public places went into effect in 2005, his Seattle restaurant lost $1 million. He said that was due to the lack of cigar, food and liquor sales in their cigar lounges.

“Let us do our business,” said Mackey.


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