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April 25, 2014

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Bill would lift smoking ban in adults-only taverns

Ever since voters passed an initiative petition banning smoking from most indoor locations, lobbyists for the gaming industry, tavern owners and others worked to thwart it.

They have been unsuccessful. But this session, in a move reminiscent of some last-minute legislative shenanigans in past sessions, lobbyists have succeeded in introducing a bill that would allow bar owners to again serve food to smoking customers.

Advocates for the 2006 Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act argue Assembly Bill 571, introduced on the 103rd day of the 120-day session, portends to make small changes to the law while gutting a key provision: to keep children in restaurants away from secondhand smoke.

Proponents of the bill — a coalition of tavern owners and slot-route operators — argue voters never intended to keep bars from serving food to adult customers who smoke. They say AB571 would not allow traditional restaurants to open smoking sections, rather it would only allow food service in adults-only stand-alone bars.

But they admit that the way it’s written, the bill could revive a once-thriving market of family-friendly taverns that previously allowed drinking, gambling, smoking and food service.

“You can certainly read it that way,” said Sean Higgins, lobbyist for tavern owners and slot-route operators who proposed the legislation. “But that is not the intent.”

It’s a policy debate that has raged since 2005 and has provoked some memorable maneuvers to save once-dead legislation — in 2009, lobbyists resurrected a bill exempting tobacco conventions from the ban by amending rejected language to an anti-stalking bill that had more lawmaker support.

This time, lawmakers have less than three weeks to decide the bill’s fate.

But lobbyists supporting the bill think it has a better chance of success because it’s narrowly tailored and, perhaps more important, the three-year ban on lawmakers changing a voter-approved law has expired.

They also have numbers on their side — $114 million in lost revenue and 358 lost jobs in the first year of the act.

The act, passed by voters in 2006, forced many bar owners to make the difficult choice between allowing smoking and serving food. To thrive, many taverns need to be able to do both. As an indication of how important smoking customers are to their bottom line, taverns have found a variety of expensive work-arounds. Some built enclosed eating sections that don’t allow smoking. Others opened completely separate smoking bars next to their food-serving establishment, walking over entrees in Styrofoam containers to smoking customers.

“Our business began to suffer immediately,” said Blake Sartini, CEO of Golden Gaming. “Smokers no longer felt welcome and nonsmokers did not fill the void.

“We are a unique business. Smoking customers are a necessary component to a healthy tavern business.”

They have also spent heavily to persuade lawmakers and the public to change what voters enacted. In 2005, they proposed a competing measure that appeared to ban most indoor smoking, but left huge gaps.

In 2007, they mostly left the issue alone.

But in 2009, they tried to persuade lawmakers to exempt taverns, convenience stores, grocery stores and other establishments from the ban, even though state law prohibited lawmakers from doing so until the law had been in effect for three years.

Although lawmakers are now free to fiddle with the law, at least one voter wanted to know why they would. But she didn’t get very far with her questions during a hearing Monday.

“Why not just send it back to the people to vote again if you’re going to change it?” Reno mother of three Chandra Mayer said.

“Is that your testimony?” said Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, after Mayer paused for an answer.

“That’s it,” Mayer answered.

“OK, questions for the committee?” Conklin said.

“Or answers?” Mayer said.

“Actually, this is a hearing. We ask questions,” Conklin said.

“Therein lies the problem, how do we get answers?” Mayer said.

Conklin then told her to contact her elected representative.

As for why the bill was introduced by the Assembly Ways and Means Committee at the last minute?

No answers there, either.

“It’s just one of those things that happens in the session,” said Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, the committee’s chairwoman.

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  1. This is the way it should be. Tavern owners should be allowed to post on their front door if smoking is allowed or not.

    You then have the right to support that business or go elsewhere with your money.

    Just how many kids did this law save in the Taverns?

    The right to choose, that is what this country is about.

  2. Simmons, I agree with you in concept. Business owners who cater to "adults only" should be the ones to make the decision as to whether or not their establishments should be "smoke free." However, all public businesses that cater to families and/or young folks should be "smoke free." I do not smoke and hate to be around those who do and, while I believe smoking is a nasty habit, it should be discouraged, not prohibited.

  3. "...to keep children in restaurants away from secondhand smoke."

    Let's examine this. Since kids are highly unlikely to be in one of these places without their parents, and if the parents smoke at home, what exactly is this unConstitutional law meant to protect them from?

    The real aim of the smoking ban is power over private property and people's private conduct, all in the name of safety and that tired old window dressing "it's for the kids!" The worst part is the herd buys it.

    "Remember that a government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take away everything you have." -- Barry Goldwater (1909-1998), Republican Senator from Arizona, 1964 candidate for President

  4. No smoking in taverns is ridiculous. If you don't want your children around second hand smoke then do not take them to bars. Be a parent! If you do not want to be around second hand smoke then make the decision for yourself.

    This was a law that was put before the voters at the same time as another one and voters were basically duperd into voting yes on one and no on the other.

  5. Let's simplify this. All the tavern owners are asking is that they can use their kitchens again for food service to their customers. How in the world is this going to increase the amount of "second-hand smoke" the customers or the tavern workers are exposed-to?

    Here's an analogy: Let's say a car full of traveling people, some of them smoking, stops and gets some hamburgers to eat. How is eating these hamburgers inside the car going to change the effect of the smoke on the occupants of the car?

    Politicians can make such a complicated mess out of a simple issue!

    Let the taverns fire-up their kitchens. If the public doesn't like it, they can stay out of the establishment. Too simple? Yeah, for a politician, I guess.

  6. Everyone wants to say if you don't like it then you can go else where how about if the business doesn't like it they don't have to renew there business lic.
    Because the environment that was created by the governing body has created a opportunity for business's to conduct business. Business have agreed to abide by the ordinances in order to keep there lic. in good standing, Some business think that once they open the door they no longer have to comply with current or future changes.

    And to think that there will be non-smoking establishments available on every corner is wrong because everyone will allow it again and you the non-smoker will just have to accept it.

    Bottom line three out of 10 adults are smokers that's why it passed three years ago, the smokers don't have the numbers to repeal it because it would take two thirds of the vote they don't have it that's why they want a new bill changing the old one.

  7. What parent worried about second-hand smoke takes their children to a bar to eat? Yes, that alcohol fueled, curse laden, enthusiasm is great for children as long as there is no second-hand smoke.

    What's next, children friendly brothels? A good parent would not be taking their children to neither.

  8. The taverns have lost money due to the recession and they are using that as the cause, and when the economy rebounds with the right timing of the ban being lifted then that info will be used to justify all future bans as being costly. this whole thing is a rope a dope.

  9. Casinokid: Tavern business dropped 25% the first year (2006) BEFORE the recession.

  10. I quit going to taverns and lounges prior to the recession on account of what the credit card companies were doing so I could pay them down and off that also might be a factor but these taverns have said 10% is what they have lost so how did it suddenly go to 25%.

  11. From the article here http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2009/apr...

    "Tavern owners told the Legislature they lost up to 25 percent of their business after voters in 2006 approved the initiative to curtail smoking."

  12. I'm on the fence on this one. The tavern allows smoking already so it doesn't impact the workers. And there are no children there. So it isn't really allowing smoking, it's allowing the tavern to serve food to smokers. But if the bill expands the smoking section to include the food section where workers will now be exposed to smoke when they wouldn't be previously I say no.

  13. We kept hearing that the ban was "for the children". I say any establishment that is for 21 or older, let them decided if they want to run a smoking or no smoking establishment.
    You know, I keep hearing people say that they want the govt to get our of their lives, but then they turn around and want the govt to dictate how we live our lives.
    If a worker doesn't want to be exposed to second hand smoke, go find another job.
    If you don't want to be exposed to second hand smoke, don't go in an establishment that allows smoking.
    Simple! And no govt agency that has to enforce rules and regs at the tax payers expense.

  14. Children are not suppose to be in bars anyways. Cigarette smokers pay a lot in tax dollars to support the children. We pay our tax and should be allowed to smoke a legal product wherever we choose unless its not allowed by a private business owner. It wasn't even a fair question on the ballot when I voted. It's like this. Do you want get killed with a knive or a gun? Does it matter? Your still dead.

  15. "Children are not suppose to be in bars anyways."

    anthonyjoev -- obviously you've never been in a real pub. They're nice places, yet somewhere you'd likely classify as a bar. Visit one and you might change your mind and post something constructive here.

    "I heartily accept the motto, 'That government is best which governs least'; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically." -- Henry David Thoreau 1849 "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience"

  16. I'm not so sure it's that easy to find work Gingerlee. And should people who want to work have to put up with smoke just because it's the only job around? And if someone is unemployeed because they can't or don't want to work in a smoking enviroment, are you willing to give them welfare? Probably not. So you're saying literally 'suck it up' or starve?

  17. Lynn the tavern owners claims are ostensible at best.

  18. A major lesson here is that the legislature can override the the public vote. The small government folks here should be wary of that.