Proposed bill enrages, unites tobacco smokers

By Lauren Belcher |

A proposed house bill that is meant to clear up language may indirectly affect tobacco smokers in Florida.

Walking down St. George Street you will see a sign that says it all: tobacco, cigars and cigarettes. One right turn, a walk down the hall and another left and you’ve arrived at the St. Augustine Tobacco Company. Inside, you’ll see another sign. This one is a flashing neon sign that reads: “Sign the petition to defeat new HB 211.”

David Lange, vice president of the Tobacco Company, said that if passed this bill could put him out of business – as well as most of the bars and outdoor restaurants in the city.

House Bill 211, also known as “Florida Clean Indoor Air Act,” is a proposed state bill that would amend the original bill from 1985 by adding the word “indoor” in two crucial parts.

Kathleen Passidomo, state representative for district 76, introduced the bill this January.

“[The current law] basically provides that the state of Florida preempts smoking,” she said. “The problem being that the preemption language just said ‘smoking’ and did not include the word ‘indoor.'”

Passidomo said that with the failure to include the word “indoor,” the law technically gives the state the right to preempt all smoking, other than on a private residence. She said this was never the intention of the Florida legislature and voters.

“All we did is add the word ‘indoor’ to that part in Indoor Air Act,” she said. “Which you would think is a given, and it should have been.”

But tobacco smokers and organizations like the Cigar Rights of America fear that changing the language of the original bill could open doors to local governments limiting outdoor public smoking.

“Whether a municipality or a county wanted to pass an [smoking] ordinance, that has nothing to do with the state legislation,” Passidomo said. “But, it would allow them to do that.”

Lange said if this bill passes it could eventually lead to banning smoking “in basic stand-alone type bars like the St. George Tavern and Tradewinds.”

He said the bill “would eliminate them to have the freedom of choice to allow smoking or not.” He also said the same for places such as golf courses, beaches and outdoor patios in restaurants.

“That’s the reason why we’re really trying to help defeat that bill,” Lange said. “[It’s] further restrictions and regulations they’re trying to place on where we can smoke and where we can’t.”

Stogie’s is a cigar bar in downtown St. Augustine that offers smoking-friendly seating inside and outside. Founder and owner of Stogie’s Jeffrey Holleran said he can’t believe a bill like this exists.

“The basis of my entire start up of Stogie’s relies tremendously on people enjoying a nice cigar or smoke of their choice.” he said. “I heavily ventilated the inside … but the outdoors? I can’t imagine that the government can take that from us. That sounds like the first step towards communism to me.”

Although Holleran admits that the likelihood of such ordinances passing are limited, he still thinks the bill should be reevaluated or eliminated.

“I wouldn’t have much of a business if that were to prevail,” he said. “Make it a viable law that people can live with. You can’t just take people’s smoking rights away from them. That’s just silly.”

But Passidomo believes smoking on outdoor patios or inside bars is not what local governments are extremely concerned with banning.

“Read it [the bill] without the word ‘indoor’ and you’ll go ‘Oh! They’re regulating smoking everywhere,'” she said. “And by putting the ‘indoor’ in there you’ll go ‘Oh! Now I understand it.'”

On Feb. 14, Sen. D. Alan Hays of District 20 introduced the Senate version of the bill, SB 1070, which is identical to the house version.

“I think it’s a good bill,” Passidomo said. “Local communities and local governments should regulate where they want to have outdoor smoking. The state is only responsible for indoor. And that’s how it should be.”

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