Connecticut cigar lounges could sell alcohol under new bill
Connecticut could allow new cigar bars for the first in 20 years under proposed legislation at the state Capitol, but health groups are once again lining up against the proposal.
At Connecticut Cigar Company in Stamford, owner Nick Casinelli offers hundreds of hand-rolled cigars.
“It's just a great community,” said customer Joe Gerics. “Nick makes everybody feel like family here.”
But if you want a scotch with your stogie, it’s strictly BYOB. Smoking is banned in bars – with no exception for new cigar lounges.
“I get a lot of out-of-towners that walk in and ask if they could have a cigar and a drink,” said Casinelli. “And unfortunately, it's just a cigar and not a drink.”
New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island all allow cigar bars. But in Connecticut, only Owl Shop in New Haven can sell drinks. That lounge operated before the 2003 smoking ban.
Now, a bill would allow cigar lounges to get liquor licenses – with some caveats. To qualify, 60% of their sales would have to come from tobacco products. Plus, cigar bars would have to be at least 5 miles from each other.
“It's designed to prevent a restaurant from putting a small cigar humidor in, saying they're a cigar shop and now suddenly it goes back to the old days where now you're smoking and drinking and eating in a restaurant,” said Casinelli.
The bill also imposes strict ventilation requirements on tobacco bars.
But don't grab your glass just yet. The Connecticut Department of Health, the Connecticut Hospital Association and three major health groups are all lobbying against the proposal.
Ruth Canovi with the American Lung Association believes cigar bars will lead to more smokers.
“Connecticut has made a lot of progress over the decades, but really in the last few years. So, I'm really frustrated that we're having this conversation,” she said. “With drinks, people are staying longer, more popular. I just think there's a lot that comes with this.”
The state health commissioner worries about secondhand smoke.
“Ventilation systems do not adequately protect from secondhand smoke exposure,” DPH Commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani said in written testimony. “In addition, smoke-free environments help to prevent young adults from starting to use tobacco, and support smokers who are trying to quit.”
At Connecticut Cigar Company, customers believe booze could boost the bottom line – and keep customers from fleeing to neighboring states.
“Oh, I'd buy anything from Nick,” said Gerics.
The cigar bar legislation recently passed the General Assembly’s General Law committee. It now heads to the state Senate, which failed to vote on the proposal last year.