Cigar Fest Gets Smoking Ban Waiver
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Patrons at a dance hall in Lincoln were allowed to smoke for a short time on Friday evening, despite a statewide smoking ban.
For five hours, patrons at the Pla-Mor Ballroom were allowed to smoke cigars indoors. Organizers of Cigar Fest got a temporary waiver from the Department of Health and Human Services to skirt the ban under the Clean Indoor Air Act.
"This is a niche event," said organizer Dallen George. "This is not something you're going to go to a bar and smoke for hours and hours, day and day."
State officials said they have received six requests for waivers since the ban took effect last June. Cigar Fest is the only one to get a waiver so far.
"We made sure we played by the rules," George said.
Organizers said they've done this the past two years when there wasn't a ban. They bring in vendors from around the country.
"It's kind of like a wine-tasting event," George said.
Only cigar smoking is allowed during the event and only smokers are allowed to work.
"Each employee here acknowledged they are smokers and they're in this smoking environment for five hours," George said.
The anti-smoking group GASP fought the exemption, saying residual smoke will affect patrons of the establishment for weeks to come.
"This is very disappointing," said GASP representative Mark Welsh. "If the health department is willing to give one waiver, how many more will they be willing to give?"
Cigar Fest organizers said they don't know. They said they're grateful the state allowed their event to take place.
"We feel an occasional cigar, if we do it annually, we're not going to be doing any harm," George said.
Last year, Nebraska lawmakers did exempt cigar bars from the smoking ban. Those bars must have a walk-in humidor and get most of their sales from tobacco products.
Friday, February 12, 2010