Minneapolis Cigar Shop Faces 15-Minute Time Limit For Smoking Cigars

A new law that was signed on May 1 will prohibit more than 15 minutes of indoor smoking time at the city’s sole cigar lounge

Anthony’s Pipe & Cigar Lounge, the sole cigar lounge within the Minneapolis city limits, now faces a restriction on cigar smoking that allows a mere 15-minute window for customers to “sample” a cigar. (Photo/Eric Ruby)

You can’t smoke a cigar in 15 minutes, not even a short one. But a new law that was just signed into effect will limit cigar smokers in Minneapolis to a mere quarter of an hour when they smoke a cigar inside a cigar shop.

In the past year, legislative battles have been continuously waged against, and in favor of, the premium cigar industry. Despite victories at the federal, state and local levels, resistance to cigar smoking continues to persist across the country. A few weeks ago, Minneapolis joined the mix, passing a series of tobacco-control measures, including a new law that takes direct aim at the sole cigar lounge located within the city limits. Cigar smokers at Anthony’s Pipe & Cigar Lounge will no longer be allowed to smoke an entire cigar. When the law goes into effect later this year, they will only be allotted 15 minutes to enjoy a premium smoke, in what the Minneapolis City Council refers to as “sampling.”

Anthony’s boasts a sizeable lounge area, and has for years while adhering to the state laws, but the newest city ordinance is likely to put significant pressure on this side of the business. (Photo/Eric Ruby)

On May 1, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey signed an ordinance into law that includes various tobacco-control measures such as barring retailers from offering discounts or promotions on tobacco products as well as price hikes on all tobacco-related goods, excluding vapes. For the most part, premium cigars were spared from the new price hikes, which, for example, mandate a single cigar sell for no less than $3.75. (It’s almost unheard of to find a handmade cigar with such a low price.) Cigarettes, however, weren’t so lucky, as the minimum price for a single pack was raised to $15, among the highest rates in the country. The big impact on cigars is the new prohibition on smoking indoors, relegating puffing to only 15 minutes, barely enough time to enjoy half of a petit corona.

The concept of sampling is not new in the state of Minnesota. The Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act (MCIAA) has, for years, permitted customers or potential customers to smoke cigars in licensed indoor areas “for the specific purpose of sampling tobacco products.” However, as far as the state-level is concerned, the line ends there. There’s no time-based restriction in place statewide as there now will be in the city of Minneapolis.

The Minneapolis City Council created their own sampling rules, a move they believe they’re given the authority to make by the state, but one that Anthony’s attorney says is an overtsep. (Photo/Joe Christensen/Getty Images)

Anthony’s Pipe & Cigar Lounge, using the state’s classification, has offered a lounge area for sampling cigars for several years. Last April, the Minneapolis licensing inspector stated the cigar shop had violated the City Code of Ordinances by providing seating for customers who were smoking. Anthony’s challenged this ruling and it seemed the issue was resolved until late 2023, when the City Council informed Anthony’s of its intention to amend the ordinances. This April, Minneapolis City Councilwoman LaTrisha Vetaw, who authored the ordinance, filed a motion to amend the bill and include stringent sampling regulations.

As part of this amendment, which was later added to the bill and passed unanimously, customers can spend a maximum of 15 minutes during a single visit or a maximum of 15 minutes during any 60-minute period when sampling a cigar. Plus, any tobacco “sampled” must be purchased on site, meaning you can’t bring a cigar to a shop and smoke it. It’s not exactly clear how this new sampling regulation will be enforced on a day-to-day basis, though monetary penalties and license restrictions, or revocation, are possible if a license holder proves to violate these new standards.

“It basically compels the cigar smoker to act like a cigarette smoker,” says Glynn Loope, the Premium Cigar Association’s (PCA) director of state advocacy. John Sperry, the attorney representing Anthony’s, agrees. In his view, the ordinance enacted by the City Council is, among other things, premised upon “the misconception that cigarettes and premium cigars pose the same health risks to smokers.”

The newest City Council ordinance puts the future of Anthony’s in question, which could leave the city without a single establishment to enjoy premium cigars. (Photo/Eric Ruby)

Vetaw’s original motion was even tougher, and included a measure that would prohibit establishments from providing any type of seating for cigar-smoking customers, a stipulation that ultimately didn’t make it into the amended version of the bill. Sperry, the attorney representing Anthony’s, says the City Council originally envisioned an absolute ban on sampling altogether.

“They’re trying to create a one-size-fits-all basket of regulations,” says Loope. “She [City Councilwoman Vetaw] is basically trying to apply a convenience store ordinance to a premium cigar shop.”

The price increases and the restriction on offering discounts went into effect on May 4. The sampling mandate is slated to go into effect on December 1.

The new law puts particular pressure on Anthony’s, located in the Uptown district of Minneapolis. The current owner purchased the cigar shop in 2016, investing a significant amount of money into a lounge area. In the years since, his cigar lounge has been fully operational while adhering to the state’s sampling policies, the latter of which have now been superseded by the City Council.

As harsh as the new sampling measures may seem, Sperry believes the new sampling ordinance is viewed as accommodating by the City Council, due to stipulations such as the December 1 start date and the 15-minute sampling window. “They see that [the 15-minute sampling window] as an accommodation, we see that as a death by a thousand cuts,” says Sperry. “The way it stands right now, it’s either close the doors or litigate.”

The sampling stipulations outlined in this bill also require that stores offering such services cannot be new, and must have been operating and offering cigar sampling as of April 1, 2024, in order to gain the exemption. At the time of this bill’s passing, Anthony’s was the only establishment offering a cigar lounge, or the opportunity to sample cigars, in Minneapolis. Thus, for the foreseeable future, no business besides Anthony’s will be able to allow cigar smoking indoors within the city limits of Minneapolis, a city of 425,000.

Hadi Aboumourad (left), the owner of Anthony’s, is pictured here with his attorney John Sperry (right). Come December 1, the two won’t be able to sit and smoke cigars like they are here. (Photo/Eric Ruby)

Minnesota is a local authority state in regards to tobacco control, meaning it grants authority to localized governments within the state “to adopt and enforce more stringent measures to protect individuals from secondhand smoke.” That’s why Minneapolis was able to pass these sweeping tobacco control measures that are stricter than the state policies, however, Sperry believes the City overstepped its authority. “It’s without any demonstrative health benefit that avoids secondhand smoke exposure to non-smokers, which is a fundamental purpose of the Minnesota Clean Indoor Act,” says Sperry, who argues that by eliminating a smoking “sanctuary” for cigar smokers, they’ll be forced to smoke elsewhere, creating a greater likelihood for secondhand smoke exposure.

Sperry also notes that secondhand exposure for non-smoking employees, a critical factor of the MCIAA, is not really an issue at Anthony’s, who’s workers all smoke cigars. “It’s unlikely a non-smoker could even fulfill the required duties of an employee at Anthony’s,” says Sperry. “I compare an employee at Anthony’s with a sommelier in the wine industry.”

If the new ordinance stands, Sperry believes other nearby jurisdictions could follow suit, which would mirror a pattern seen lately in states with local authority.

Garrett Rutledge, Published courtesy of Cigar Aficionado

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