Bluffton council approves 'cigar-bar' measure

cconley@islandpacket.comJuly 16, 2013 

If you are interested in a fine cigar accompanied by a glass of beer or wine, Bluffton is now the place to be.

Town Council on Tuesday amended its smoking rules to allow tobacco stores to sell beer and wine but not liquor.

The so-called "cigar bar" measure, however, bans cigarette smoking from these venues, an activity that had been allowed.

The changes to the smoking rules were approved on a 3-2 vote with some council members and residents fretting over what they called a "slippery slope" effect.

"When you start tweaking ordinances for one business, that's where you run into issues," Dianne Wilson, a former director of the S.C. African American Tobacco Control Network, told the council.

Councilman Oliver Brown, who voted against the measure, suggested changing the rules for one business was not fair to other venues adversely affected by the town's 2006 smoking ban.

Those concerns were countered by supporters, who say provisions found within the amendment prevent restaurants and bars from bypassing the smoking ban.

For instance, the amendment says tobacco stores wishing to sell beer and wine cannot sell food, which under state liquor laws prevents them from selling spirits.

Venues also must have a walk-in humidor and derive at least 30 percent of sales from cigars and tobacco products to qualify for the new exemption.

Tobacco shops were already exempt from the smoking ban, but selling beer and wine required a special provision in the town ordinance. Any tobacco stores that wish to sell beer or wine must get the appropriate state license.

Councilwoman Karen Lavery joined Brown in opposing the measure.

Lavery said she didn't receive a single phone call or email supporting the proposal but several from people and organizations opposed to it. She wondered who would enforce certain provisions such as the cigarette-smoking ban.

Councilman Ted Huffman, Mayor Lisa Sulka and Councilman Mike Raymond voted for the new measure.

Huffman introduced the proposal earlier this year on behalf of Peaceful Henry's Cigars and Tobacco on Bluffton Road.

Huffman doesn't expect the new exemption will result in a wave of new cigar bars.

"If 15 more people want to go into the tobacco business and try to do it, so be it, that's the free market, but I don't think that is going to happen," he said.

He said the store's alcohol sales also will provide some additional hospitality tax revenue for the town.

Attempts to reach Burt Sky, owner of Peaceful Henry's, were not successful after business hours Tuesday.

Members of the store's private smoking club -- who pay $200 a year for a membership -- already can bring their own beer, wine and liquor into the establishment. It wasn't immediately clear if the new town rules affect that arrangement.

Hookah tobacco and pipe tobacco also are allowed in cigar bars under terms of the new rules, which take effect today.

Several other municipalities in South Carolina allow cigar bars, including Charleston and Greenville, according to town documents.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.

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