Senator Anthony Petruccelli’s bill to save local cigar bars like Tuff’s Tobacco on Bennington Street in East Boston or Minas Envios on Maverick Street went up in smoke last week with a last minute veto of the bill by Governor Deval Patrick.
Petruccelli cosponsored a bill that would have made the Boston Public Health Commission’s 2008 ruling to close all cigar and hookah bars by 2018 obsolete.
Petruccelli’s measure passed in the Senate by a 21-17 vote. The bill then went to conference committee where it gained the support of both the House and Senate.
However, Patrick found that signing the bill would step on the toes of local municipalities and their ability to create workplace policy.
“I am vetoing this section because it prevents local officials from protecting the public health of their citizens,’’ Patrick wrote in his veto letter.
Petruccelli has long argued that banning smoking in the work place, in restaurants, in bars is one thing but to do so in a cigar bar goes too far. The sole purpose of a cigar bar is to provide a comfortable setting for people who enjoy smoking cigars. Consumers, Petruccelli has said in the past, know what they are getting into when they enter an establishment like a cigar bar and as an employee one would know they are going to be around smoke.
Tuff’s Tobacco owner Jimmy Shenna agrees with Petruccelli and questioned BPHC’s reasoning.
“The only people coming into a cigar bar are coming in to smoke,” said Shenna, whose business is considered an anchor business in Orient Heights Square by many neighbors. “I can see keeping tobacco products or second hand smoke away from children, employees or patrons of bars and restaurants but including cigar bars makes no sense.”
Shenna said most cigar bars are locally run small businesses and removing them from Boston only hurts the local economy.
“They are driving these businesses out of Boston and they’ll go elsewhere,” said Shenna. “They really are not taking into considerations that these type of businesses are mom and pop establishments.”
Shenna understands that the city is trying to keep tobacco out of the hands of children and that is something he agrees with. However, he said the city has failed to truly regulate tobacco products.
“If you truly want to regulate tobacco then make it only available in tobacco shops,” suggested Shenna.
Shenna’s suggestion does make sense on many fronts. For example, Shenna holds a license to sell tobacco and another license to allow smoking in his establishment. He is allowed the second license because a majority of his sales are directly related to tobacco and not food, liquor or other goods and services. Convenience stores, supermarkets and other stores have the same license to sell tobacco but smoking is not allowed in those establishments because most of their sales come from other commodities.
So if a convenience store, supermarket or another store gets caught selling tobacco or tobacco products to minors they are fined and have their license to sell tobacco suspended for a few days. It doesn’t really affect these types of stores because they sell other goods and services for a profit.
However, if Shenna’s shop is fined and his license suspended he has nothing else to sell and would be forced to close his cigar shop until his license is reinstated. It’s in Shenna’s best interest as a business to make sure that everyone patronizing his establishment is over 18.
“It’s the only way it can be truly regulated,” said Shenna. “Tobacco shops and liquor stores should be designated places to buy tobacco.”
Shenna also fears that businesses like his will become obsolete with new, tougher smoking ordinances coupled with state tax increases on tobacco.
“Tobacco products bring in a billion of tax revenue in the state but our sales are decreasing, the state sales are decreasing as smokers head across the border to New Hampshire,” said Shenna. “There will be a point in time when this creates an underground market for untaxed tobacco products. I’m sure it’s probably already happening somewhere in the state.”