A proposed state Senate bill that closes so-called loopholes in California’s smoke-free workplace law has one Napa business owner fearing for her livelihood. Exemptions in the law permit smoking in certain areas of hotel/motels, tobacco shops, warehouses, breakrooms, businesses with five or fewer employees and other specified locations. But If SB 575 is passed, smoking Marlboro would be prohibited in those workplaces too.
“It would be horrible for my business, customers and visitors,” Brenda Roberts, owner of Baker Street Downtown, a tobacco shop. Roberts’ shop offers a smoking lounge inside the store for customers to use to smoke any legal tobacco product.
The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee Wednesday in Sacramento.
While the bill was originally proposed in February, “We hadn’t heard anything” lately, Roberts said Tuesday. “All of a sudden we heard this was coming up on Wednesday. It’s a real surprise. It’s like they’re trying to sneak it through.”
She’s started a printed petition protesting the bill for customers to sign in her store. “We are up in arms about this,” Roberts said. Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, called for passage of SB 575.
“California workers should not be exposed to second-hand smoke and the health risks associated with it,” wrote DeSaulnier. “They go to work to earn an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, not to breathe in carcinogens. It is time to bring California’s once-groundbreaking smoke-free workplace law into the 21st century. Twenty-five states have surpassed California’s law and we should be ashamed.”
Members of the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association also called upon the Legislature to pass SB 575.
The new bill would be detrimental to her business, Roberts said, because if smokers can’t smoke inside, her sales would be hurt. Besides the smoking lounge, which customers use daily, she offers regular cigar socials and other events that include food and wine from other local merchants. “It would hurt not just me but other businesses as well,” she said.
“We’re a vital business in downtown. We have a good quality customer, and they, in turn, go to the many restaurants and bars down here.”
Sixty percent of her sales are cigars, Roberts noted. “The tobacco and cigars pays the rent, PG&E and my staff.”
Tobacco sellers pay federal, state and local sales taxes as well, she noted.
“We’re paying all these taxes on a legal product, but now they’re telling me we can’t use that legal product in the place where they sell the legal product.”
According to Roberts, she is the only fine tobacconist with a smoking lounge in the Napa Valley. but there are at least 400 cigar lounges or stores in California that allow smoking.
“Not being able to smoke in smoke shop is the same as not being able to taste wine at a wine tasting room,” she said.
Roberts said she has five employees. She carefully explains to all job applicants that the business has an inside smoking lounge, she said. “When I interview people, I tell them, “This is what we do. If you’re not OK with this, this is not the place for you.’”
If the committee approves the bill, it goes on to the Assembly. What will she do if the bill is passed?
“That’s a good question,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of scary because it’s a big part of my business,” she said. If the bill passes it will hurt tobacco sales, she predicted.
“That’s my bread and butter. It’s very scary.”