Bar and saloon owners made a late-session pitch Monday to ease voter-approved restrictions on indoor smoking cigarettes, arguing that the law intended to protect the health of children and families has crippled their businesses by barring them from serving food if they allow smoking cigarettes.
"We are not traditional restaurants. We are not movie theaters. We are not child-care facilities," Blake Sartini, chief executive of Golden Gaming Inc., told the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
The 2006 Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act put taverns and saloons in the same class as these establishments with disastrous results, he said.
"We lost a tremendous amount of revenue when we enforced the non-smoking cigarettes laws. We lost a lot of customers," said JoJo Sonner, president of Bully's Sports Bar and Grill. Sonner said the recession hit her business but she also blamed the ban on her business' Chapter-11 status.
"It basically brought us to our knees," she said.
Current law bans smoking cigarettes in places such as malls, government buildings, restaurants and grocery stores. It is allowed in casinos, taverns, saloons and stand-alone bars ï¿½ where patrons must be 21 or older ï¿½ and where food is considered an "incidental" component of the business.
Roger Sachs of the Nevada Tavern Owner's Association said the ban forced members to lay off about 750 kitchen employees in 2007.
AB571 would allow smoking cigarettes and food service in age-restricted stand-alone bars, taverns and saloons. Supporters said it would give adults a choice to patronize smoking cigarettes establishments.
Opponents told lawmakers the proposed legislation, which surfaced weeks before the Legislature is slated to wrap its 120-day session, is an attempt to subvert a voter-backed smoking cigarettes ban.
"Here we go again," said Michael Hackett, representing the American Cancer Action Network and several other organizations. Changing the food standard and adding the age-restricted establishments to the list of exempt places will render the clean air legislation irrelevant, he said.
"It will be close to impossible to distinguish between a bar and a tavern and a tavern and restaurant when trying to enforce smoking cigarettes laws," Hackett said.
But Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, said that was the flaw with the existing legislation. The law was purportedly about public health but the legislation was tied to food service, she said.
"People are still smoking cigarettes. You did not change the actual act of smoking cigarettes and the goal in all the groups that you represent is to get people to quit smoking cigarettes or to be healthier and not be exposed to second-hand smoke," Carlton said.
Before her husband stopped smoking cigarettes, the ability to smoke cigarettes and eat determined where they spent their money, she said.
"All you did was get a bunch of folks laid off because we didn't serve food anymore," Carlton told Hackett.
Hackett and other anti-cigarettes speakers said the law is effective in protecting workers from second-hand smoke, and by extension, their families.
Chandra Mayer, of Reno, said any changes to the law should be put to voters.
"We voted. The whole thing seems like sort of a waste of time and money and we want to know why it's not just being sent back to the people to vote on again if we're going to change it," she said.
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