On September 7, the Augusta Commission voted to amend the city’s existing alcohol code. This change allows cigar bars to be exempt from the city’s smoke-free law, which prohibits smoking in all forms in public places. Of course, there are certain requirements an establishment must meet before they can be legally covered by this amendment.
For starters, they have to generate at least 20% of their revenue from cigar sales. In fact, cigars have to be the only tobacco product that they sell. If cigarettes or hookah-related products are also sold, the establishment does not qualify as a cigar bar. Beyond that, the other requirements are fairly straight-forward: employees must be at least 21 years old and the HVAC system has to operate at a minimum of 98% efficiency for proper smoke removal.
While the initial vote to implement the exemption passed 8-2, the final vote on September was a little closer. Commissioner John Clarke ultimately changed his mind and decided to vote against the measure, while Commissioner Dennis Williams, a cigar smoker himself, abstained. That put the final vote at 6-3-1, allowing the cigar bar exemption to move forward.
After that vote, however, Commissioner Francine Scott exited the meeting. This left some final votes in a precarious position. Namely, motions to adopt an air quality exemption and fee structure for cigar bars both failed with a 5-4 vote, since six votes are needed to pass. What does this mean for the future of cigar bars in Augusta? Time will tell.