The Hattiesburg City Council approved an amendment to the 2007 smoking ordinance, allowing four cigar bars in the Hub City by a 4-1 vote after Councilwoman Deborah Delgado stressed her opposition because of the unhealthy effects of secondhand smoke.
Delgado spoke out against the amendment during the City Council’s agenda-setting meeting Monday and the meeting on Tuesday at City Hall. She said before Tuesday’s vote, the change in the ordinance is not better, and it weakens the no-smoking ordinance.
“My position as a single vote is what is in the best interest of my constituents,” she said, citing the unhealthy effects of smoking. “We, as taxpayers, pay the cost.”
Delgado said Monday the dangers of secondhand smoke outweigh the establishment of a cigar bar.
“People think of smoking premium cigars as a social activity that gives a certain amount of class to individuals’ enjoying it,” she said. “But, you are luring individuals into a setting within which they can contract the problems that some of the individuals that smoke during the Citizens Forum raised for us. Cigars contain the same chemicals as cigarettes – carcinogens and compounds found in cigarettes.”
Five Hattiesburg residents spoke during the earlier Citizens Forum against the cigar bar amendment because of smoking’s harmful effects. Delgado said the amendment goes against what the city has been doing in terms of building a healthy environment.
“I think we need to look at it and what we want for our city,” she said. “We have promoted and gone after healthy Hattiesburg dollars for many years because we have pursued money for just being a healthy community, period. … Those kinds of environments (cigar bars) are not healthy.”
Mayor Toby Barker said the amendment places strict guidelines on how a cigar bar can operate.
“Even if this was adopted, it sets a threshold that 40 percent of the income of these places have to be tobacco-related,” he said. “So, you couldn’t have a restaurant or an existing bar suddenly create a cigar bar within itself.”
Brandi Sanford, community health director in Hattiesburg for the state Department of Health, said the amendment sets a strict interpretation for a cigar bar.
“We do recognize that there are no safe levels of secondhand smoke,” she said. “However, we also recognize that cities will make exceptions, and we try to work with them.”
Sanford said officials had looked at the city’s amendment and offered one caveat. They wanted the amendment to restrict the cigar bar to a standalone building.
Delgado said she disagreed with Sanford.
“It is disingenuous for you to be an employee of the Mississippi State Department of Health,” she said, “to say that this is a thing you are going to bless because it’s not going to have an impact outside the building where it’s going to be located.”
Delgado also compared the amendment’s effect to what has happened in other cities, particularly New Orleans.
“New Orleans has strip clubs, doesn’t it?” she asked rhetorically. “We don’t allow strip clubs in Hattiesburg because we are trying to protect a quality of life. So, it is a choice. I’m talking about a choice.”