State may snuff Aspen’s Cigar Bar
ASPEN Sipping scotch while smoking a cigar at Aspen’s Cigar Bar would be out of the question under a proposal before the Colorado Legislature.Cigar bars were exempted when the Legislature enacted a statewide smoking ban last year, but fears that watering holes are now turning into cigar bars to skirt the ban has lawmakers considering outlawing cigar bars altogether.On Wednesday, a Senate committee backed a proposal – Senate Bill 250 – to close the loophole for bars that receive 5 percent of their income from selling tobacco.The move has not gone unnoticed by Mary Lynn Casper, owner of The Cigar Bar in Aspen. She has been in contact with the bill’s sponsors, as well as lobbyist Dick Soash, who is working at the Statehouse on behalf of the Cigar Association of America.At the very least, Casper said she hopes legitimate cigar bars that existed before the smoking ban went into effect last year would be “grandfathered” – allowed to continue operating even if lawmakers outlaw new cigar bars. At present, though, Senate Bill 250 contains no such provision, said Soash, a former state senator who, at one time, represented Pitkin County within his district.”There would be no exemption whatsoever,” he said.At present, patrons at The Cigar Bar are allowed to smoke both cigars and cigarettes on the premises, and the establishment sells cigars along with liquor and other beverages. It is a place, Lynn said, where the resort’s visitors, including those from foreign countries who are accustomed to lighting up in public places, can still come have a smoke and a drink.Eliminating the cigar bar exemption would be “devastating,” she said.”It would be the end of the bar as we know it, but we would still have a bar there,” she said.The Cigar Bar is part of a complex of establishments on Hyman Avenue that also includes Su Casa (a restaurant), Eric’s (a bar) and Aspen Billiards. Smoking was not allowed in any of those spaces even before the statewide ban.”Now, we don’t even allow smoking in the courtyard,” Lynn said.There are roughly 40 cigar bars around the state that would be affected by Senate Bill 250, said Soash, who is lobbying to keep the exemption intact.”We think it’s an exemption that is reasonable and still allows people to do a legal activity [smoke],” he said.The state’s smoking ban currently has three big exemptions – casinos, cigar bars and the smoking lounge at Denver International Airport. Lawmakers are also looking at ending smoking in casinos and, if both measures pass, lawmakers could make them take effect at the same time.The exemption was aimed at protecting only a handful of cigar bars, including Churchill’s at the historic Brown Palace Hotel in downtown Denver, but many more bars have latched on to it, according to Kimberly Hills of the Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance.”This is a loophole that is getting bigger by the day,” she said.The cigar bar exemption was a key part of a recent court decision declaring the smoking ban unconstitutional. An Adams County judge said the law violated the due-process rights of bar owners because it didn’t allow them a chance to establish themselves as cigar bars.A La Plata County district judge earlier ruled the ban was not clear on what it takes to qualify for the cigar-bar exemption.Police Chief Tracey McCoy of Ault, near Greeley, said two bars in his town are observing the ban but a third is not, claiming to be a cigar bar. He said the law doesn’t allow him access to the bar’s tax records to verify the claim.Officers issued the bar a ticket but the district attorney’s office rejected that after finding that the bar’s own records proved it qualified for the exemption.Marcel Pitton, managing director at the Brown Palace, and three servers from Churchill’s urged lawmakers Wednesday to reject the proposal to close the cigar bar exemption. Pitton said the hotel serves international travelers who expect to be able to smoke and use the smoking lounge at DIA.”It’s part of the tradition of the Brown Palace,” Pitton said.Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, said it was a mistake to allow different rules for neighborhood bars and more upscale cigar bars in the first place.”It doesn’t matter if you’re at Churchill’s drinking a martini and [smoking] a cigar or up at Nob Hill smoking a cigarette and [drinking] a light beer. You’re going to go out on the patio or you’re going to stand outside,” he said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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