Traverse City Record-Eagle

Our Views

April 18, 2014

Cigar bar liquor license a smoking ban loophole

When Michigan lawmakers finally did the right thing in 2009 by voting to ban smoking in virtually all public places, including bars and restaurants, they couldn’t completely kick the habit.

In a nod to the bad old days when Big Tobacco’s big lobby quashed any attempt to limit the right to light up anywhere, anytime. lawmakers exempted cigar bars, retail tobacco stores, private home offices, company vehicles and the gambling floors of Detroit’s three casinos.

Now the Traverse City Commission has turned the law on its ear by essentially enabling a loophole. On a 4-3 vote they granted cigar store owner Mike Nolan - who holds a state cigar bar license — a liquor license so he can create a bar where patrons can smoke high-end cigars and drink in the back of his tobacco shop on East Front Street.

That’s probably not what backers of the law had in mind when they exempted cigar bars or specialty retail tobacco shops. But city commissioners bought into Nolan’s argument and opened the door for other entrepreneurs with a cigar bar license to apply for a liquor license and go into the bar business, pre-2010 style.

So what happened to all the talk before Michigan’s law went into effect four years ago next month about protecting public health and in particular the health of people who worked in bars or patrons who just wanted a steak without the smoke?

And make no mistake - this was not a given. The commission did not have to grant Nolan a liquor license. This is not a situation where a restaurant wants to upgrade to sell beer, wine and liquore with its food. This is a creation from whole cloth; the only link is that he sells cigars. Would a shoe store that wants to open a bar out back get the same kind of consideration? No.

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