April 15, 2020
By Charlie Minato - Halfwheel
Like most businesses, cigar shops across the United States are having to make changes to their businesses due to coronavirus COVID-19 and various governmental orders that have been issued.
Update (April 15, 2020) — Patrick Lagreid and I have updated this article to include our understanding of how stay-at-home orders affect cigar shops in all 50 states. — CM.
Few states have issued specific directives on whether tobacco stores, cigar shops, cigar lounges or cigar bars can remain open as part of stay-at-home orders. Most states either have an explicit list of what is and isn’t considered “essential” or refer to Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)’s directives. Unfortunately, that doesn’t explicitly address cigar stores either.
As such, we’ve compiled a list of what we think stay-at-home orders mean for cigar shops in each state as well as the District of Columbia.
- This is not legal guidance.
- All of these orders are subject to change at any given time.
- Some cities and counties have issued their own orders that extend beyond the listed state directives.
- If you are planning on trying to visit a cigar shop, it’s best to call ahead of time as many shops have decided to close or make more changes than what is required by law.
Our understanding of how this affects cigar shops is as follows:
- Alabama — Tobacco stores are not on the list of essential businesses or those that must shut down. They may remain open through curbside pickup, delivery, remotely, or any other method that does not involve a customer entering its building provided that the business takes all reasonable steps to ensure a consistent six-foot distance between persons.
- Alaska — The governor ordered all non-essential businesses to close as of March 28 at 5 p.m., though cigar and tobacco stores are not mentioned as such. There is a provision that says all other businesses that can maintain social distancing requirements and prohibit congregations of no more than 10 people in the business at a time, including employees, would appear to be allowed to remain open.
- Arizona — While they are not defined as essential services, there has been no directive to close cigar stores or limit access to lounges.
- California — The governor directed all residents to stay at home as of March 22 unless they are designated as an “essential critical infrastructure worker.” A list published by the governor’s office does not include tobacco stores on the list of those workers. Los Angeles County’s Public Health Department has explicitly said that tobacco and vape shops should not be open to the public.
- Colorado — The state said that “cigar-tobacco bars” are to be closed from March 17-April 30. Those places are defined as businesses that “generated at least 5 percent or more of its total annual gross income or $50,000 in annual sales from the on-site sale of tobacco products and the rental of on-site humidors, not including any sales from vending machines.”
- Connecticut — All non-essential businesses have been directed to prohibit in-person functions, with tobacco or cigar retailers not included on the list of essential businesses. The governor recently extended the closure order through at least May 20.
- Delaware — Tobacco stores are not cited as an essential business, and a list published by the state would indicate that they would in a group of “other miscellaneous store retailers” that are not to remain open. Residents have been directed to stay at home until at least May 15.
- District of Columbia — Non-essential businesses have been ordered to close through at least May 15, though cigar stores are not explicitly mentioned on a list of businesses that must close.
- Florida — The governor directed all residents to limit their movements and personal interaction outside of their home to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services. Tobacco retailers are not explicitly mentioned on the state’s list of essential businesses, and guidance issued by the state directs all non-essential businesses to be closed to customers through April 30, unless extended. Some counties in Florida have threatened to fine tobacco stores who purchased small quantities of food to resell so they can be deemed essential.
- Georgia — Residents have been directed to shelter in place until at least April 30. The state is using the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s list of essential critical infrastructure to set a framework for essential businesses and has said that people can go to work to maintain basic operational needs.
- Hawaii — Cigar and tobacco retailers are not explicitly defined as essential businesses, and residents have been directed to remain at home except to engage in essential activities, businesses and operations.
- Idaho — The state’s list of essential businesses doesn’t include tobacco retailers, though as of April 15, any business, facility or service can operate via curbside or delivery services. Businesses must continue to maintain social distancing requirements for both customers and employees, including prohibiting any congregation of customers or employees in or around the place of business.
- Illinois — The governor ordered that all non-essential business and operations must cease, aside from minimum basic operations. Tobacco and cigar retailers are not specified as being an essential business.
- Indiana — Cigar retailers are not deemed to be an essential business, but they are allowed to conduct business, though it must be restricted to online or call-in ordering with delivery or curbside pickup. Businesses must also comply with social distancing and sanitation of applicable areas and other mitigation measures to protect its employees and the public.
- Kansas — The governor has directed all residents to remain at home except for essential activities, which are defined by the Kansas Essential Functions Framework (KEFF). Tobacco and cigar retailers are not specified on that list.
- Kentucky — The governor directed all non life-sustaining businesses to stop operating in-person services as of March 23 at 8 p.m. Tobacco stores were not specified on the list of businesses the state deemed essential, which would seem to put them in the category of “miscellaneous store retailers” and thus not allowed to be open as usual. However, non-essential retail businesses, while they cannot allow Kentuckians into stores, can still fill phone and online orders through curbside services or delivery.
- Louisiana — Tobacco stores are not listed as part of the list of essential infrastructure. As such, tobacco stores are ordered to have no more than 10 people in a business at any given time.
- Maine — Maine defers to the CISA list. If a tobacco store is considered “non-essential” then it may remain open but it must not allow in-person contact and may not have more than 10 workers in a space. If a tobacco store considers itself an “essential store” it would be subject to further requirements like having special hours for those 60-years-old or older, special markings of the floor, etc.
- Maryland — Tobacco stores are not listed on the state’s list of essential businesses. The state no longer allows non-essential businesses to offer curbside pick up.
- Massachusetts — Tobacco stores are not listed on the state’s list of essential businesses. It seems likely they could allow for curbside pick up or delivery so long as customers do not enter the stores.
- Michigan — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer specifically mentioned that tobacco stores must close in relation to an earlier stay-at-home order. The current order has been extended through the end of April.
- Minnesota — Minnesota is one of a few states that has explicitly ordered tobacco stores closed. More specifically, the state’s list of essential businesses does not cover “workers supporting tobacco and vaping-product shops.”
- Mississippi — Tobacco stores are not listed in the state’s list of essential businesses, as such, they are required to close except for minimum operations.
- Missouri — Missouri defines essential businesses as per the CISA list. It has ordered all businesses that are less than 10,000-square-feet to reduce the number of patrons to no more than 25 percent of is limit as per the fire or building code. For businesses larger than 10,000-square-feet that restriction is set at 10 percent.
- Montana — Tobacco stores are not listed on the state’s list of essential retail businesses, as such it seems likely the state has ordered them closed outside of minimum basic operations, which does not include delivery or curbside pick up.
- Nevada — All non-essential businesses, including casinos, are closed. Effective until April 17, 2020.
- New Hampshire — Tobacco stores are not listed as an essential retail business and as such must be closed except for curbside and delivery operations. Of note, on-site cash transactions are not allowed.
- New Jersey — Tobacco stores are not listed on the state’s list of essential businesses that remain open and as such must close to the public, curbside pick up and delivery are able to remain open.
- New Mexico — It would appear that tobacco stores must close completely. The state’s order does not define a tobacco store as “essential” and anything not deemed essential must reduce “the in-person workforce at each business or business location by 100%” effectively rendering them closed.
- New York — All places of public amusement are outright banned, which would likely close a lounge in a cigar store. The state does not list tobacco stores as part of its essential businesses, likely meaning that a store would need to ask the state if it could be deemed as essential to remain open. Non-essential stores may remain open for delivery or mail order business, however, they are only permitted to have one employee present at the business at any given time.
- North Carolina — All non-essential businesses must be closed March 30-April 29. Tobacco stores and cigar shops are not listed as essential businesses. Fulfillment centers are allowed to be open, which means JR Cigar can still ship cigars out of the state but it’s unclear if brick-and-mortar retailers can close and then provide mail order-only business.
- Ohio — The state’s order bans all places of public amusement, which would likely shut down a lounge in a retail cigar shop. The state doesn’t clarify whether a retail tobacco store could remain open though certain counties have ordered tobacco stores to shut down.
- Oklahoma — The governor has issued a “safer-at-home order” that applies to “vulnerable populations,” but Oklahoma has not implemented a statewide order similar to other states. Cigar stores presumably can remain open and operate normally.
- Oregon — Hookah bars are explicitly ordered to close, but tobacco stores and cigar shops are not mentioned. As such, they are likely to remain open so long as they implement social distancing practices.
- Pennsylvania — The Department of Community and Economic Development has stated that tobacco and vape stores must close though at least one vape store was told the opposite. Pennsylvania’s mail-order cigar operations—which include Cigars International/Thompson, Famous Smoke Shop, Holt’s, Atlantic Cigar and others—are able to remain open though they must adhere to social distancing guidelines.
- Rhode Island — Tobacco stores are not listed on either the specific list of businesses that can remain open or must close per the Department of Business Regulation. Stores that offered food or drinks would be explicitly allowed to stay open. If tobacco stores are classified as non-critical, then the stores are permitted for both curbside pick up and delivery operations.
- South Carolina — Tobacco stores must adhere to the state’s social distancing requirements: no more than five customers per 1,000-square-feet of retail space and patrons must be at least six feet of one another.
- Tennessee — Cigar stores may remain open for to-go orders so long as there are no more than 10 people—including customers and workers—on the premises at any given time. Tennessee has ordered businesses that provide “close-contact personal service or entertainment / recreational venue” to close, likely meaning that lounges must be shut down.
- Texas — Tobacco stores and cigar lounges are not explicitly mentioned in the governor’s order. Tobacco stores are allowed to continue with mail-order businesses though the order does not explicitly ban cigar lounges from continuing to stay open.
- Utah — Has not issued any sort of statewide restrictions.
- Vermont — Tobacco stores are not listed as an essential business and as such must “suspend in-person business operations” but are able to do curbside pick-up and delivery.
- Virginia — Cigar stores may remain open but they must adhere to the state’s social distancing requirements including not allowing more than 10 patrons in the store at any given time.
- Washington — Cigar stores in Washington are not normally allowed to having smoking lounges on-premises due to an existing law. An email from the Cigar Association of Washington indicated that cigar stores could remain open for to-go orders but they would need to offer food products for sale.
- West Virginia — West Virginia’s order does not explicitly list tobacco stores on either the list of businesses that can remain open or ones that must close. The governor’s order lists a variety of businesses that must be closed—cigar stores are not mentioned—though other similar leisure-based businesses are mentioned.
- Wisconsin — Tobacco stores are not listed on the state’s informal list of retail businesses that can stay open. The official order would allow for mail-order operations and potentially carry out orders which many Wisconsin cigar stores are doing.
- Wyoming — Has not issued any sort of statewide restrictions.
Patrick Lagreid contributed to this article.