TRAVERSE CITY — Mike Nolan will usher in Traverse City’s first — and many hope only — locale where patrons can drink, eat, and smoke without having to leave their bar stool to stand outside in the cold.
A sharply divided city commission this week approved Nolan’s request for a liquor license to create a cigar bar in the back of his tobacco shop on East Front Street. Three commissioners spoke against the license request, three spoke in favor, and Commissioner Barbara Budros cast the deciding vote without previously stating her position.
“I was nervous,” Nolan said. “But I was happy enough people decided it was a matter of choice and we can continue to pay our taxes.”
Cigar bars are among the few exceptions to state law that bans smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants. Only cigars priced at $1 or more can be smoked on premises. Cigarette and pipe tobacco are banned.
Budros, the lone smoker on the commission, noted she voted in favor of past smoking bans in the city and her habit did not play into the decision to approve Nolan’s request.
“I don’t agree with it, but the state has already given him an exemption to the smoking ban,” Budros said. “I was looking at it as we are giving him a liquor license. We have never denied one and it didn’t make sense to deny this because we didn’t like the activity.”
Commissioners Ross Richardson, Gary Howe, and Jim Carruthers offered similar comments in support of the license.
Mayor Michael Estes and Commissioners Tim Werner and Jeanine Easterday cited the city’s long and progressive actions to prohibit smoking in public places in their opposition to the license, as well as the discriminatory nature of the exemption.
“Just because someone can afford to smoke a $5 cigar compared to smoking Joe Camels at the neighborhood bar, I don’t agree with it because what’s good enough for one group should be good enough for everybody,” Estes said.
Opponents also focused on the damaging health effects of tobacco smoke.
“I have cared for and watched people die from the effects of cigarettes, cigars, and chew,” said Easterday, a registered nurse for 40 years. “I cannot in good conscience support any effort to in any way increase the desirability or appeal of smoking of any kind.”