By December 10, Maybe the Council Will Have Its Head Out of Its Ash

As you can see from the photo of Pauline Medrano here, council members spent the first 40 minutes of today's meeting of the City Smoking Ordinance Special Ad-Hoc Committee scarfing down sandwiches -- too busy to have a proper lunch, apparently, what with back-to-back meetings on the schedule. (And looks like they love 'em some Lenny's too.) The munching made the early part of the meeting particularly confusing, as those pro and con the expanded smoking ban bandied about stats in order to prove their respective points. Said those against the ban, businesses would almost certainly suffer with tighter restrictions in place. Said those pro banning the butt, Nuh-unh.

Well, somebody's wrong, right?

And because this hasn't dragged out long enough, the committee addressed several new issues involving the proposed ordinance. Not only did they discuss specifically how to enforce a rule that would ban smoking 15 feet from a public entrance to a building, but also on the agenda was creating a separate category for cigar bars. Specifically, council members discussed whether the sale of individually wrapped cigars will be allowed under the expanded ordinance. The latter was an addition after last week's meeting, during which a clearly frustrated Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway said, "I want my issues to be heard and addressed." Apparently, kids use those singe-serving cigars to "smoke dope."

With regards to the banning of smoking within 15 feet of an entrance, the committee elected to only fine the smoker. Furthermore, the fine would be implemented regardless of whether the illegal puffing was occurring on private property or on a public sidewalk. The issue related to patios and other allowable smoking areas is being held, supposedly, until those areas are more clearly defined.

(Let's see ...)

Conceptually, the committee agrees that cigar bars should still be allowed to let their patrons smoke 'em if they got 'em. However, precisely what constitutes a cigar bar is still contingent upon specific numbers: What percentage of income comes from the sale of tobacco products versus the sale of alcohol?

Ricky Agostin of Havana Social Club Cigar and Rum Bar, highlighted earlier on Unfair Park, told the committee today that about 30 percent of his sales stem from tobacco products, while 60 percent are poured from a liquor bottle. (The other 10 percent? "Miscellaneous.") This caused confusion among the council, which considers a "bar" as having 75 percent of its revenue attributed to the sale of alcohol. Angela Hunt wants to make sure the cigar bars are stand-alone venues that keep their doors shut at all times and refuse to allow minors on the premises. The terminology is stopping the council from a clear vote on that issue.

Caraway's issue -- banning the sale of individually wrapped cigars widely used for marijuana use -- is still up in the air as well.

Agostin noted that those cigars in particular are not made of 100-percent tobacco, but, rather, consist of other materials -- such as cardboard. Maybe, he said, the council should ban the blunt specifically. Alas, the council has requested more information on this as well before a straw poll is taken. Said Hunt to Caraway, "I wanna help you clean up your area," but she does not want this issue to delay the expanded smoking ordinance and figures, well, maybe it should be a separate ordinance.

Currently, fines for those who violate the ordinance have a minimum and a maximum amount determined by the municipal judge. Hunt suggested a set fine of $200. Vonciel Jones Hill then asked if it was constitutional to set the fine on the judge's behalf -- at which point an audience member insisted, "None of this is constitutional." But since the council figured, well, there are set fines for other ordinances, the $200 fine sounds all right by them. The City Attorney's Office is double-checking to make sure they can have a flat rate.

As it stands, the committee is moving forward and briefing the entire council December 3 -- although 12 of the 14 council members were in attendance today for at least for part of the meeting. There is hesitation from the council's staff as to whether they have enough time to get the information requested of them concerning such issues as the cigar bar controversy or the number of establishments that will be effected by the ban and any economic impact info that is available. More public opinions will be heard at the December 3 council meeting, but speakers should register with the City Secretary in advance.

Medrano said a final vote will be taken December 10. -Courtney Clenney         

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