ND Senate approves bill to establish cigar lounges

Supporters argue that the lounges will provide a controlled environment for smokers; opponents have concerns about public health risks

North Dakota Capitol
The North Dakota Senate has narrowly approved House Bill 1229, which seeks to allow for the establishment of cigar lounges across the state.
Forum Communication file photo

BISMARCK — North Dakota is poised to join a growing number of states that have or are planning to allow for the establishment of cigar lounges, following the state Senate's narrow approval of House Bill 1229 .

Supporters of the legislation argue that cigar lounges will provide a safe and controlled environment for smokers, while allowing businesses to operate as they see fit. Opponents have raised concerns about the health risks associated with smoking and the potential exposure to second-hand smoke.

Despite staunch opposition in testimonies, legislators greenlit the bill 25-22 on Wednesday, March 15. The bill will now head to the House and Senate for further debate and agreement on any amendments before being sent to Gov. Doug Burgum’s desk for consideration.

The bill, introduced by a coalition of all-Republican representatives and senators, representing Minot, Grand Forks, Fargo, Bismarck, Williston, Mandan and others, seeks to amend and re-enact section 23-12-10 of the North Dakota Century Code relating to smoking restrictions, exceptions, retaliation and application.

If signed into law in its current form, the new legislation will allow for the creation of cigar lounges across the state — provided they meet certain criteria established by the bill.


To qualify for exemption from smoking restrictions, a cigar lounge must hold a valid certificate issued by the tax commissioner, possess a humidor on the premises, have a ventilation system that does not recirculate exhausted air into nonsmoking areas, and meet specific enclosure requirements.

The bill will permit the smoking of cigars purchased on the premises, but no other products will be allowed. Further, cigar lounges must report to the tax commissioner annually in outlining the percentage of revenue from the sale of cigars as part of the annual gross income. Any lounge that complies with these rules will receive an annual certificate, according to the verbiage of the bill.

While supporters argue that cigar lounges will provide a safe and controlled environment for smokers and boost the state's tourism industry, opponents have raised concerns about the health risks associated with smoking and the potential exposure to second-hand smoke.

North Dakota is one of the few states in the country to consider allowing cigar lounges, with the legislation potentially following in the footsteps of states like Florida, Texas and Nevada who have either passed similar legislation or are currently considering it.

Of the 55 oral and written testimonies presented on HB 1229, there were 14 in favor and 41 in opposition.

Josette Dupree, owner of Big Stick Cigars in Mandan, testified in support, arguing that adults should be allowed to enjoy cigars in a controlled, indoor environment, just as they are allowed to drink alcohol in bars.

“Today, myself and other cigar smokers are asking for your support in passing HB 1229 so that we may have the option to enjoy our cigars in an indoor, controlled environment,” she said. “The supporters of this bill want to play by the rules, and we want to make sure the state gets its fair share.”

She also highlighted the regulations that would be in place, including a standard HVAC system and commercial smoke eaters.


Jennifer Schaeffer, tobacco prevention coordinator with the Southwest District Health Unit in Dickinson, provided testimony in opposition, arguing that the bill would severely undermine the current North Dakota Smoke-Free law by allowing smoking or vaping indoors in other businesses and public places.

“The majority of North Dakotans voted, and expect that they would not be entering a business that allows smoking or anything combustible,” she said. “We held a tobacco compliance check recently where the businesses that failed sold cigars to our trained underage students. This shows us that youth are looking to what adults are using for tobacco products and would try cigars.”

Jennifer Schaeffer, left, and Karen Goyne with the Southwestern District Health Unit in Dickinson are working at getting all establishments at 100% with alcohol compliance checks.
Jennifer Schaeffer, left, with the Southwestern District Health Unit in Dickinson testified in opposition to HB 1229.
Dickinson Press file photo

Schaeffer noted that her office receives complaints from individuals who violate the current law, and that the bill is likely to increase the number of those complaints.

The bill maintains the provided exemptions for smoking as part of a traditional Native American spiritual or cultural ceremony, and sets penalties for any person or employer who retaliates against an employee, applicant or other person exercising their rights afforded by that section.

James B. Miller, Jr. is the Editor of The Dickinson Press in Dickinson, North Dakota. He strives to bring community-driven, professional and hyper-local focused news coverage of southwest North Dakota.
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