Metro Council voted down a measure that would have legalized cigar bars in Louisville Thursday.
The proposal from councilmembers Mark Fox (D-13) and Anthony Piagentini (R-19) would have carved out an exemption in the city’s 2008 indoor smoking ban. That ordinance bans smoking in all Louisville establishments, except for the use of non-tobacco, non-nicotine products in existing hookah bars and electronic cigarette stores. It also requires smokers to stand at least 15 feet away from a building.
Proponents of legalizing cigar bars said the ban puts Louisville at an economic disadvantage regionally, since those bars are allowed to operate across the river in Indiana.
“We have allowed Jeffersonville, New Albany, our neighbors to the north to take what we have built with a beautiful waterfront and a beautiful, find a way to monetize that and bring people over, sitting over there having dinner, they like sitting over there and having a cigar,” Fox said during a recent Metro Council committee meeting.
In a 15-11 vote, a majority of councilmembers sided with public health officials and other opponents who said legalizing cigar bars would weaken the city’s indoor smoking ban.
Councilmember Cassie Chambers Armstrong (D-8), who voted against the proposed ordinance, said it’s not good policy to start gutting the city’s smoke-free law.
“I think this idea that safe, legal products should be able to be used by anyone at any time, and that we should just let people smoke their tobacco products where they want, is really a conversation that we have already had as a city,” she said. “And we decided to have a comprehensive smoke-free law.”
Chambers Armstrong also rejected the argument that smoking or going to a cigar bar is simply an individual choice.
“I think if we allow these cigar bars to be here, we have to acknowledge that we’re basically have people begin smoking cigars and begin using tobacco products that otherwise wouldn’t,” Chambers Armstrong said. “What we know from the research is that’s not just detrimental to those individuals and their health, that has costs for all of society.”
Metro Council heard earlier this month from Dr. Sarah Moyer, Louisville’s chief health strategist, that there was no way to prevent cigar bars from harming the health of employees and neighbors. She pushed back on a provision in the ordinance that required cigar bars to maintain “proper ventilation” and “high air quality standards.”
“There is no ventilation system or amount of physical separation that can provide health protections,” Moyer said. “The only way to protect residents is through a truly comprehensive smoke-free law, like the one we have.”
According to the city’s Center for Health Equity, 25% of Louisville residents were tobacco users in 2007 before the indoor smoking ban went into effect. That dropped to 21.7% by 2019.
The proposal did see some support from business owners, particularly owners of tobacco shops.
Sandy Tucker, who owns the Oxmoor Smoke Shoppe with her husband, J. Paul Tucker, said they’ve served tourists who are disappointed by Louisville’s ban on cigar bars.
“This is a good proposal for Louisville and harms no one,” she said. “It allows adults to be adults, and small businesses to grow.”