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Bill would let cigar stores serve liquor

DOVER - Cigar store patrons would be able to enjoy a Cognac with their Cuban under a bill that would let the stores serve liquor.

The Senate approved House Bill 392 last week, and the House could debate it as early as Wednesday. The bill, which came up two years after the state banned smoking in restaurants and bars, would let cigar stores serve beer, wine and alcohol, provided they meet a number of conditions.

The store must have a humidor on the premises and generate at least 60 percent of its revenue from the sale of cigars and cigar-related products. Food can't be served, in-store cigarette smoking wouldn't be allowed and minors would be banned.

There are about 25 cigar stores in the state that could meet those conditions, including Dave's Cigar Shop on Sixth Street in Dover and Federal Cigar on Ladd Street in Portsmouth.

Backers of the bill, including Senate Majority Leader Maggie Hassan, an Exeter Democrat, said its intent is to maximize profits for store owners. Under the current law, patrons can bring their own alcohol to cigar stores and drink it there; the bill would end that practice, and customers would have to pay for drinks.

"We don't want (cigar stores) competing with restaurants and bars," said Hassan, whose district includes Two Guys Smoke Shop in Seabrook. "This would level the playing field."

Health advocates are staunchly opposed.

Daniel Fortin, president of Breathe New Hampshire, a lung health advocacy organization, said the bill represents an "endorsement" of smoking by the Legislature.

"Smoking is a huge health problem," he said, citing 2007 statistics that the state spends upward of $560 million in medical costs related to tobacco use.

Peter Ames, spokesman for the American Cancer Society, said the bill reneges on the spirit of the state's smoking ban.

"It's a step backward for public health and a clear message the Legislature is willing to create loopholes in the smoking ban law," Ames said.

Hassan, who supported the ban, disagreed.

"Smoking is already going on in these stores, as is drinking," she said. "This won't change behavior a whole lot. It will allow business owners to maximize revenue."

She added that the clauses that a store must earn 60 percent of its sales from cigar products and not serve food would prevent restaurants from qualifying.

State Rep. Brendon Browne, D-Dover, who opposed the smoking ban, supports HB392.

"It should be up to owners" if they want to serve alcohol, he said. "It gives them a choice to expand business."

Dave Ladisheff, owner of Dave's Cigar Shop in Dover, said he doesn't know what choice he'd make if the bill is signed into law.

While he'd welcome the increased business, he said he isn't sure if he wants to deal with liability issues. Cigar store owners would have to get liquor licenses and be subject to the same overserving laws as bars.

Ladisheff, who used to work in nightclubs, said he's fearful of a scenario where a patron who may not look intoxicated comes in, has two drinks, and later gets in an accident because he or she had been drinking before coming to the store.

"Stuff happens," he said.

But if other area cigar stores serve alcohol, he said he might be forced to as well to keep up with the competition.

He said sometimes cigar smokers simply want a small glass of Brandy, Scotch or Bourbon once in a while, but have been unable to do so since the smoking ban went into effect.

"To sit down and have a cigar and have a drink ... that's what they miss," he said.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Source: Foster s Daily Democrat

Bill would let cigar stores serve liquor