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      Columbia TMs smoking ban still hazy

      The proposed amendment would allow tobacco retailers to sell alcohol, if 35% of its income came from tobacco products.

      A month ago, Columbia officials were ready to go to court, accusing The Tobacco Merchant on Bower Parkway of violating the city TMs smoking ban.

      On Wednesday, council considered changing the ordinance to exempt cigar bars from the ban, but once again, the city postponed making any decisions. The outcome could affect many tobacco retailers.

      Grant Collins owns The Cigar Box on Rosewood Drive, and he has big plans for his business. He TMd like to add a bar to his lounge.

      We TMre in a state with double-digit unemployment, and if we could of opened a full bar a year ago, we could of probably employed three more people, said Grant Collins.

      Tobacco retailers have always been exempted from the city TMs smoking ban. It became a problem when the tobacco merchant began serving alcohol, and officials argue that makes it a bar.

      The intent for me on this very important decision that council made was to make sure that our bars and restaurants were smoke-free, said council member Belinda Gergel.

      Darryl Smalls, attorney for The Tobacco Merchant, argues that the sales of beer and wine are merely incidental.

      We think a clarification would be in order, says Darryl Smalls, that is really what we TMre asking for.

      Under the proposed amendment, cigar bars would have to show their business generates at least 35% of its annual gross income from tobacco products, excluding cigarettes.

      But some council members are hesitant to changing the law.

      Obviously the real concern I have is opening that door, said council member E.W. Cromartie.

      Once we decide on this one, says council member Tameika Isaac Devine, are we going to get a lot more people in here to counter this decision?

      As for The Cigar Box, its business as usual until a decision is made.

      City council will take up their issue again at their regularly scheduled meeting on February 17th.