Augusta commissioners consider no-smoking exemption for cigar lounges

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AUGUSTA, GA. (WJBF)–Augusta commissioners are considering a special exemption to the city’s no-smoking ordinance to make way for designated cigar lounges.

The amendment to the city’s no-smoking ordinance failed in Tuesday’s July 27th commission meeting, but has gained support from city leaders and business owners.

Russell Wilder, who owns Top Shelf Cigar & Tobacco Shop in Columbia County, says if the amendment passes he will consider opening a cigar shop in Richmond County.

“About 2018 or 2019 I was starting a business plan to open a cigar bar in Richmond County because you can have bars there. And it’s a hot type of business now in the cigar industry,” Wilder said,

But in the summer of 2018, Augusta-Richmond County passed a smoke-free ordinance in all bars and indoor businesses. Tuesday’s proposed amendment would not change this ordnance.

“What we’re trying to do here is to allow for the establishment of a separate entity of a cigar lounge,” Commissioner Jordan Johnson, District 1 said.

This means that if the amendment passes, people could only smoke inside designated cigar establishments, not inside regular bars and restaurants.

And commissioners in support of the amendment say it would be good for the economy and give Augustans more things to enjoy.

“You go to any city the size of Augusta or slightly larger, you can find cigar lounges, you can find other fun things to do across the city that would give you a different vibe, that would give you a different ambiance,” Commissioner Johnson said.

“It’s good money,” Commissioner Dennis Williams, District 2 said. “I look at how much I spend monthly on cigars. The city will do well.”

But other commissioners disagree and strongly oppose the amendment, which failed in Tuesday’s commission committee hearing.

“This issue for me comes down to health over revenue,” Commissioner Sean Frantom, District 7 said. “I anticipate that you’re going to see a loud outcry in the entire community if we try to open up a cigar bar.” 

But Wilder says he sees it as a personal decision.

“Make exemptions for a place only smokers go,” Wilder said. “You can let people smoke when it’s a room full of smokers. They’re all assuming that risk voluntarily.”

Commissioner Dennis Williams says it’s likely to come up again at the next full commission meeting.

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