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NV panel moves bill allowing food in smoking bars

Publication Date: 6/2/2011
  • Author:AP
  • Publication:CBS MoneyWatch.com

A bill in Nevada changing a voter-approved indoor smoking ban and allowing adults-only taverns to sell food is moving forward, in spite of testimony that it was a step backward in the fight against the dangers of secondhand smoke.

The measure cleared an Assembly money committee Wednesday and now heads for a vote in the full Assembly.

"It helps out a hurting industry," said Sean Higgins, lobbyist for the state's tavern owners. "The Clean Indoor Air Act hurt their bottom line, and it was a double whammy with the recession."

Voters passed the Clean Indoor Air Act by petition in 2006, banning smoking in places such as malls, government buildings, restaurants and grocery stores. Smoking is allowed in casinos, taverns, saloons and stand-alone bars--where patrons must be 21 or older--and where food is considered an "incidental" component of the business.

But standard food service in bars was banned. Higgins said it didn't make sense, since people who are drinking on an empty stomach would get drunk more quickly.

AB571 would allow smoking and food service in age-restricted stand-alone bars, taverns and saloons. Supporters said it would give adults a choice to patronize smoking establishments.

Five members of the committee voted against the bill. Assemblywoman April Mastroluca, D-Henderson, said she is concerned there will not be adequate enforcement of the smoking ban.

Bill opponents say it would be nearly impossible to distinguish between family restaurants, where smoking indoors is illegal, and age-restricted bars serving food, which are exempt from the smoking ban.

Michael Hackett, representing the American Cancer Society and the Nevada State Medical Association, said the bill could be a slippery slope that takes the teeth out of the smoking ban.

"It is going to expand the Act," Hackett said about the exemptions. "It's not the will of the voters."

The measure, which was introduced last-minute with just two weeks left in the 120-day session, still faces hurdles in the Senate.

"This is just one hill," Hackett said. "It's not the end of this."