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Bill to allow food service in adult-only bars and taverns with smoking moves forward as time runs short


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: A controversial bill that would let stand-alone bars and taverns that allow smoking by their adult-only customers to also serve food won approval in the Assembly today and now heads to the Senate with only one day remaining in the session.

Assembly Bill 571 would change the prohibition in the Clean Indoor Air Act approved by voters in 2006 to allow food service and smoking in such establishments that serve only customers aged 21 and older. Currently bars and taverns that allow smoking cannot serve food except incidentally.

The bill passed 23-19.

Sean Higgins, representing the Nevada Tavern Owners Association, said the industry has provided information to lawmakers showing the loss of business to the industry because of the smoking ban.

“We did a study that included 77 percent of those restricted locations – Jeremy Aguero and Applied Analysis did it – and it showed that in 2007 we lost 17 percent of our top-line revenue that equated to 30 percent-plus of the bottom line,” he said.

But health official argue that the last-minute bill, only introduced May 20, goes against the wishes of voters and is another effort to chip away at the restrictions in the act. They have also provided their own information showing that bars have not suffered as a result of the smoking restrictions.

Michael Hackett, a consultant for the Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition, said the first attack on the act came in 2009, when an exception allowing smoking in convention facilities at tobacco-related trade shows was approved by lawmakers.

“That was probably the first little chip-away at the act we saw,” he said. “This certainly would be another one. The overall concern is this is definitely not what the voters supported in 2006.”

Voters were clear they wanted smoking banned in all bars that have food-handling licenses, Hackett said.

The coalition is also concerned that the bill would allow the businesses to create separate fully-enclosed smoking areas for adult patrons while offering non-smoking areas for families as well.

“Again, it still is creating a new area where smoking is going to be allowed,” Hackett said. “There is no requirement for any kind of separate ventilation or anything like that to make sure that the smoke stays specifically within that designated area.”

The changes would also create difficulties for agencies enforcing the Clean Indoor Air Act, he said.

Higgins said opponents of the bill are trying to confuse the issue. The legislation is intended to allow bars that serve only to adults to allow smoking and food service, he said.

“A stand-alone tavern can have a restaurant component which is non-smoking and people under the age of 21 can be in there, they can do that today,” Higgins said. “The age-restricted is simply someplace where no one under 21 can go. They are wrong, they are incorrect and they are trying to throw up red herrings.”

Higgins acknowledged that time is short to see final action, but as long as the bill is alive it has a chance to win approval.

“It’s alive right now, that’s all I can say,” he said.

Audio clips:

Tavern Owners lobbyist Sean Higgins says the group has produced evidence the smoking ban has hurt the industry:

060511Higgins1 :15 the bottom line.”

Higgins says smoking opponents are trying to confuse the issue:

060511Higgins2 :16 up red herrings.”

Clean Air Coalition lobbyist Michael Hackett says the bill is another attempt to chip-away at the will of the voters:

060511Hackett1 :13 supported in 2006.”

Hackett says the bill also allows new fully-enclosed smoking areas in bars and taverns without any ventilation requirements:

060511Hackett2 :12 that designated area.”

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