Port: Should cigar bars be illegal?

If we aspire to be a free society, and I think most of us do, then we must let people make their own choices. Informing those choices is one thing. Prohibiting them is quite another.

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MINOT, N.D. — North Dakotans have made it clear, with their votes, they don't want smoking in public or even on private property that is open to the public.

(The latter is a deep affront to the sacred notion of property rights, but, alas, that battle is lost.)

But voters here have also made it clear that they don't exactly share the blind hatred of smokers and the tobacco industry that some public health activists espouse. A 2016 measure representing a massive tax hike on tobacco products went down in flames .

Into that context comes a debate over private hospitality establishments that would specifically cater to tobacco users. House Bill 1152 , introduced by Rep. Dan Ruby , R-Minot, would create an allowance for so-called "cigar bars" in state law.


These establishments would need to truly be cigar bars as the law requires a humidor on the premises. There are a host of other requirements, too, such as a "ventilation system by which exhausted air is not recirculated to nonsmoking areas and smoke is not backstreamed into nonsmoking areas."

The establishment would need a special license issued by the state tax commissioner and would have to file revenue reports from cigar sales to that same office.

It may be hard to remember, given the publicly funded prohibition campaign against it, but using tobacco is still legal in the United States. Some people would enjoy access to an establishment where they could enjoy a drink, and a cigar, while socializing with others.

Currently, this sort of public establishment is illegal — state law makes it so that the only indoor space you can lawfully smoke is your home — but should it be?

We all know the health risks of tobacco use. They are endlessly drilled into us. The messaging can be obnoxious at times, but there's nothing wrong with informing people of the potential consequences of their choices.

Still, if an adult, fully cognizant of those risks, wants to smoke a cigar, shouldn't that be their choice? And since they're allowed to make that choice, why can't entrepreneurs build a business around serving that choice?

Not surprisingly, a cadre of officials from anti-tobacco groups are attacking this legislation, and their histrionics are amusing. In a letter to the editor, they've accused lawmakers of "shockingly" introducing this bill amid the "deadly" COVID-19 pandemic.


The pandemic has been awful ( I know better than most ) but invoking COVID-19 as an argument against this bill is silly. This is not a permanent state of affairs, and when we craft the law, we should recognize that.

If we aspire to be a free society, and I think most of us do, we must let people make their own choices.

Informing those choices is one thing. Prohibiting them is quite another.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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