Tavern owners push change in no-smoking law for bars
CARSON CITY, Nev. – Tavern owners Monday asked lawmakers to loosen the voter approved anti-smoking law to permit both food and smoking in their establishments.
Lobbyist Sean Higgins said when that law took effect in 2007, tavern owners were forced to choose between closing down their kitchens or banning smokers, who they said are a significant percentage of their business.
He said those taverns still have outside food delivered to customers but can’t prepare the food on site in their own kitchens. He said he doesn’t believe that is what was intended.
The ballot question approved by voters banned smoking in most public places including restaurants and grocery stores. Casino gaming areas and hotels were exempted from the law.
“The drafters of this act intended to allow people to continue smoking in stand-alone bars and taverns,” he told the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
The change proposed in Assembly Bill 571, introduced just last week, will allow those bars and taverns that don’t allow people under 21 to resume serving hamburgers and other food.
“It will allow taverns who have closed their kitchens to reopen them and rehire employees,” Higgins said.
He said not one additional establishment would be able to allow smoking under the bill as written. Asked why restaurants such as Applebees wouldn’t just change their license so they could permit smoking, he said after the hearing they can’t do that and the bill is written to make sure restaurants can’t go back to allowing smoking.
Roger Sachs, president of the Nevada Tavern Owners Association, testified that in large part because of the no-smoking law, the number of taverns in that association has dropped from more than 300 to just 105. He blamed the law for a 30 percent drop in business and the recession for another 20 percent reduction.
Jeremy Aguerro of Applied Analysis said his analysis of the industry indicates that law is responsible for a $114 million reduction in revenue and the loss of 360 jobs. He based that analysis on the fact the smoking ban took effect almost a full year before the impact of the recession hit Nevada’s leisure and entertainment industry.
During that year, he said the state’s economy including gaming was basically flat while gross revenues to taverns was down 17 percent.
Opponents of AB571, however, charged that the legislation would weaken an act their surveys say is supported by 83 percent of Nevadans.
Michael Hackett representing the American Cancer Society and the Cancer network as well as other anti-smoking advocates said it the bill would allow any bar or saloon in the state to allow smoking and serve food.
“This provision would indeed expand the scope of where smoking is allowed,” he said. “If passed, it will be close to impossible to distinguish between where it’s allowed or not.”
He blamed the financial woes of taverns on the recession, not the smoking ban.
Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, said her problem is that backers of the petition “tied it to food.”
“To me, that made absolutely no sense,” she said. “All you did was get a bunch of folks laid off because we don’t serve food anymore.”
Hackett said the idea was to reduce the public’s exposure to second-hand smoke.
“They just got rid of the kitchens,” Carlton said. “People are still smoking.”
Tom McCoy of the American Cancer Society said restaurant and tavern workers are entitled to a work environment free of second-hand smoke. And Amy Beaulieu of the American Lung Association said voters knew what they were supporting when they passed the petition.
Chandra Mayer testified she avoids patronizing places that allow smoking and won’t take her children there. She questioned why the committee would consider the legislation.
“We voted on this,” she said. “We’re not sure why it’s back. You’re just taking something that’s defined and making it a big gray area.”
Bob Sack, Environmental Health Services Director for Washoe County’s Health District, said the bill would further complicate enforcement of a law that is already extremely difficult to enforce.
“Right now the act is essentially unenforceable,” he said. “In Northern Nevada they’re basically thumbing their noses at us.”
Ways and Means vice chairman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, agreed with Sack, saying in Clark County there really is no enforcement.
The committee took no action on the bill.