Juggling Gypsy’s smoking-related fine upheld by health board

The New Hanover County Board of Health voted unanimously Wednesday to uphold a fine against the Juggling Gypsy for violations of the state’s indoor smoking ban on bars and restaurants.

The two-hour hearing Wednesday morning dealt with the first of three separate administrative penalties imposed on the Castle Street bar since the ban took effect earlier this year.

Each fine from the health department is $200.

The Juggling Gypsy so far has appealed the first two fines.

The Juggling Gypsy was the first business in Wilmington to be issued fines under the new smoking laws.

The Juggling Gypsy was the first business in Wilmington to be issued fines under the new smoking laws.

No other establishments in the county have been fined yet under the new law, New Hanover County Health Director David Rice said.

The Juggling Gypsy’s first penalty was issued Feb. 19 and was based on a visit a few days earlier during which a health inspector saw a person smoking a hookah inside and a box of ashtrays near the front door.

At Wednesday’s hearing, the Juggling Gypsy’s owner and manager said that after they received their final warning letter, they switched to allowing only herbal cigarettes and hookah shisha made from tea leaves to be smoked inside.

They argued because neither product contained tobacco, it did not fall under the ban.

“We were in compliance on the date of our inspection,” said owner Sebastian Gomez.

The bar’s general manager Denny Best said the ashtrays were for outdoor smokers and collected for keeping inside overnight.

Workers likely had not yet set the ashtrays back outside when the inspector visited, Best said. He pointed out the ashtrays were boxed up and not distributed around the bar inside for people to use.

Testimony from a New Hanover sheriff’s detective swayed at least one health board member in voting to keep the penalty.

He said he visited Juggling Gypsy on March 15, which is after Gomez said the bar switched to the policy of tobacco-free substitutes inside. The detective brought someone with him who smoked a full Black & Mild cigar, and Best did not ask the person to put it out or smoke outside, the detective said.

Best said he did not remember that happening and asked the detective if it was possible he did not see the man smoking the cigar.

“Obviously, they were not in full compliance as of the date of the (penalty notice) and were not March 15,” Sharon Huffman, assistant county attorney, told the board members.

The state law, which took effect Jan. 2, requires most restaurant and bar owners to post no-smoking signs, remove ashtrays and ask anyone smoking to put out their cigarette, pipe or other lighted tobacco product.

Best also made the argument that because hookah material – whether made with tobacco or an alternative – is warmed by a coal separated by aluminum foil, it is not lit directly and does not fall under the law’s definition.

Gomez and Best said they planned to ask legislators to revisit the ban this year and grant hookah bars an exemption similar to the one given to cigar bars, which are allowed to continue indoor smoking as long as they meet a certain level of alcohol sales.

“The health department’s doing their job as they see it,” Best said. “We don’t blame the health department at all. We blame the General Assembly.”

When the smoking ban was under debate last year, there were more than 40 hookah bars in the state, Best said. He estimated half of them have shut down because of the new ban based on a recent survey he did.

“We feel it is unfair to penalize otherwise lawfully operating businesses,” he said. “In this time, do we really want to shut down businesses and put people out of work?”

source: starnewsonline.com

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