Governors Club smoking regulation perturbs some members

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The world is growing smaller for Governors Club smokers.

Beginning Jan. 1, smoking will not be permitted prior to 7:00 p.m. in the Lounge of the exclusive downtown Tallahassee club which features dining and meeting rooms.

“It makes the Governors Club Lounge like any other bar in town; there’s nothing special about going there now,” said David Ramba, a Tallahassee lobbyist who frequently holds court in the Lounge.

“If you want a nice place to smoke a cigar, it’s the only place available in town, “said Ramba. “If you are sitting there having a cigar with a senator you don’t have to worry about the press walking in. …  “It’s a place where you can sit down have discussions, socialize and have the smoke-filled room – it got famous for that.”

Gus Corbella, president of the Board which oversees the Club sent out a notice Monday explaining the new smoking regulation. Corbella wrote that 57 percent of the respondents to a club survey voted in favor of making the change.

“Today’s decision by the Board to limit smoking until after 7 p.m. is a sincere effort to try and find a middle-ground to respect the wishes of our membership as a whole,” Corbella explained.

The Lounge was created in 2004 in response to Florida’s Clean In-door Air Act which banned smoking in enclosed workplaces, exempting designated smoking rooms in bars with no more than 10 percent of revenue from food sales.

 The Governors Club, one block from the state capitol, expanded to include a lounge with a humidor and private cigar boxes for members who wanted to smoke.

James Theilen was the Board president when the Club decided to build the lounge. He said the ban on smoking until 7 p.m. makes the lounge unavailable to members like himself who has young children and must be home by that time.

“It is ironic that they are changing the policy for the Lounge (away from) the very reason it was built,” said Theilen. “In my world I call that a failure of leadership – that’s just my humble opinion.”

Theilen said when plans were being drawn up, members were told ventilation systems would enable smokers and non-smokers to enjoy the same space. A decade later, the ventilation system is unable to clear the air of fumes from cigars and cigarettes. Corbella explained that numerous changes to try to make the system work better have been unsuccessful.

“This decision was not going to go well with some of the smoking members even if it was wrapped in a cigar in Ybor City,” said Ron Sachs, a past member of the Governors Club Board. “It would be a mistake to say that the Lounge was crated only for smokers. If you are a member of the Governors Club you have the right to go into that lounge and feel comfortable.”

The Club advertises the Lounge as a popular addition for “after hours” meetings and get togethers. One ad echoes Ramba’s comment about the “privacy” that is “unlike other popular downtown establishments.”  A job advertisement for a general manager earlier this year said the Club and Lounge heaviest usage occur in the months around the Florida legislative session.

Corbella stressed that the Club is not banning smoking altogether – just prohibiting it prior to 7:00 p.m. and making the Governors Club Happy Hour smoke free.

“Right now, I’m rather perturbed with them. I pay extra for a cigar box. You know, why do I even want that now?” said Ramba.