Bill to lift smoking ban passes Assembly

CARSON CITY - Nevada smokers soon may be able to light up in bars and taverns -- and enjoy meals -- under a bill passed by a narrow 23-19 vote Sunday in the Assembly.

The bill, sought by tavern and bar owners who contend their business income has dropped since the passage of the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act in 2006, now faces the formidable task for going through hearings and a vote in the Senate. Time is running out for them, however, since the Legislature adjourns Monday night.

Under the Clean Indoor Act approved by voters, bars, taverns and restaurants were prevented from serving food to patrons if they allowed smoking. The Legislature may amend voter-approved laws after three years.

Assembly Bill 571, if it becomes law, would allow smoking and meals in bars and taverns if they prohibit any patrons under 21.

Taverns still could construct "completely enclosed" sections with separate entrances for younger patrons and adults who want to eat in a smoke-free environment. They also can construct separate buildings that would be smoke free.

"People over the age of 21 who are already smoking should have a choice over whether of not they want food in a bar," said Sean Higgins, a lobbying for tavern owners.

Violations of the law would be misdemeanors, but there also would be a $1,000 fine if a supervisor or employee allowed patrons under 21 to loiter in a smoking area.

The bill would go into effect as soon as it is signed into law. It also includes language to allow smoking in convention facilities for tobacco-related trade shows.

Of the 16 Republicans, all but Pete Livermore of Carson City voted for the bill, while 18 of the 26 Demcorats voted no.