California Attorney General Kamala Harris ruled Wednesday that tobacco shops that serve alcoholic beverages can’t allow patrons to smoke indoors.
Harris rendered the opinion at the request of the city of Pasadena, which wanted to know whether a private smoker’s lounge located in or attached to a tobacco shop that serves alcohol was exempt from the Legislature’s 1994 ban on smoking in workplaces. The law took full effect in 1998.
“We are informed that in some communities private smokers’ lounges serve alcoholic beverages to their customers and, further, that the California Department of Alcoholic Beverages Control … has issued alcohol licenses to some of these entities,” Harris stated in her ruling. “This practice has caused concern among local enforcement authorities and raised questions about how workplace no-smoking rules apply.”
Local government agencies commonly ask the attorney general for legal opinions when a state law can be read in different ways.
Such was the case here. The smoking ban carved out certain explicit exceptions, including one for “retail or wholesale tobacco shops and private smokers’ lounges.”
The law defined a smoker’s lounge as an “enclosed area in or attached to a retail or wholesale tobacco shop that is dedicated to the use of tobacco products, including, but not limited to, cigars and pipes.”
And that’s the sticky part. What does “not limited to” mean?
“When we are called upon to interpret the meaning of a statute, our primary task is to determine what the Legislature intended,” Harris said. “In doing so, we look first to the words of the statute themselves, giving to the language its usual, ordinary import and according significance, if possible, to every word, phrase and sentence in pursuance of the legislative purpose. If there is no ambiguity in the language of the statute, then the Legislature is presumed to have meant what it said, and the plain meaning of the language governs.”
Focusing on the phrase, “dedicated to the use of tobacco products,” Harris said: “’Dedicated’ means “holly committed to a particular course of action. Therefore an area ‘dedicated to the use of tobacco products’ is set aside for the use of tobacco products, and for tobacco products only.”
Another part of the law identifies tobacco shops as places that sell “tobacco products, including, but not limited to cigars, pipe tobacco and smoking accessories.”
“While this language is marginally less restrictive than the definition of a smokers’ lounge,” Harris said, “the differences are not significant enough to produce a different conclusion.”
The term “smoking accessories,” Harris ruled, “cannot reasonably be interpreted as including alcoholic beverages.”