The New Bedford City Council will create a special committee to explore the possibility of allowing smoke shops to offer on-site consumption of tobacco products, such as cigars and hookah.

The Council's Committee on Ordinances voted 6-2 to form the special committee that will work in partnership with the Board of Health to discuss the best practices for these establishments. Councilor at Large Debora Coelho and Ward 4 Councilor Dana Rebeiro voted no, while Councilors at Large Brain Gomes and Linda Morad and Ward 1 Councilor James Oliveira were not present for the vote.

Health Department Director Dr. Brenda Weis said there is currently no regulation against the implementation of smoke bars, but there is a state permitting process.

Businesses that sell tobacco products are not exempt from the state's Smoke-Free Workplace Law, but they can obtain a permit from the Department of Revenue that will serve as their exemption. The special committee will work with the Health Department to make sure the City's regulations already on the books will coincide with the state's exemption criteria.

"You have to remember, these are adult-only establishments, 51 percent of the sales have to tobacco related, there are certain things that have to be done and in place," said Ward 6 Councilor Joe Lopes, one of the co-authors of the motion.

Dr. Weis didn't necessarily oppose the idea of allowing a limited number of smoke bars, but acknowledge that while it's good for business, it's bad for health.

"I would encourage the city to do it on a very minimal level," she said.

With the state permitting process already in place, any ordinance drafted by the committee would likely just set a limit on how many establishments are allowed within the city, most likely two to three.

Most councilors didn't seem to mind taking the chance on new economic opportunities, as long as they fit the state's regulations.

"I don't see there being a problem if the business if legitimate, legal," said Councilor at Large Ian Abreu.

However, other councilors still don't see the potential for economic gains as a reason to disregard public health.

"I care more about health than I care about the culture of smoking cigars," Coelho said.

"We need to have a little bit of integrity about how we make our money," said Rebeiro. "There are so many other businesses that people want to create...I just think that not every dollar is worth making."

The matter will be discussed further after the special committee is formed.

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