Panel OKs bill to allow bar patrons to smoke and eat

CARSON CITY -- A move to allow taverns and bars to let patrons smoke and eat meals if children are not allowed on the premises gained momentum Wednesday under a bill approved 10-5 by the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

Under Assembly Bill 571, if only adults 21 and older are allowed to enter, taverns and bars can permit smoking and serve patrons food.

The bill revises the voter-approved Clean Indoor Air Act of 2006, which bans smoking in restaurants, taverns and most other places where food is served. Voter-approved laws can be amended by the Legislature after three years.

Under the bill, taverns and bars also could offer two sections: one where adults could smoke and eat, and a second, completely enclosed, no-smoking area for families and adults who prefer that option.

"This would help out our industry," said Sean Higgins, a lobbyist for tavern owners. "We have been hit with a double whammy, the recession and the no-smoking law."

But Paul Hackett, who represents the American Cancer Society and smoking prevention groups, said the bill violates the will of voters.

"They are expanding the areas where smoking is allowed," he said.

Hackett thinks that the amended bill will lead to sports bars and large taverns creating both smoking and nonsmoking sections. Because the doors will be opening and closing, he thinks second-hand smoke would filter into the nonsmoking section.

Ways and Means Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, opposed the bill.

She said it might take some time for the amended bill to get to the Assembly floor for approval of the amendment and a vote.

If it receives Assembly approval, then the proposal must go to the Senate for additional hearings. The session ends at 1 a.m. Tuesday, so the proposal might die.

Smith said that the Clean Indoor Air Act has worked "very well" in Washoe County and that changing the law goes against the wishes of voters. During hearings, witnesses said enforcement of the no-smoking law has been spotty in Clark County.

Higgins expects the bill, introduced May 20, will become law.

He maintains that the measure offers taverns and patrons freedom of choice.

"For some, children are a small part of their clientele," Higgins said of businesses that would be affected by the law. "The business operators will have to make a choice."

All six Republicans on the Assembly committee voted for the bill, while five of the nine Democrats opposed it. Voting no were Smith; Paul Aizley, D-Las Vegas; Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas; David Bobzien, D-Reno; and April Mastroluca, D-Henderson.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.