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You’ll still have to BYO food to the local tavern

PT’s Pub and other taverns around town wanted to find a way to serve food to customers at their stand-alone bars that are exempt from Nevada’s smoking ban.

But on Thursday, it appeared patrons would still have to be their own waiters and waitresses.

“That’s the message we continue to give,” Southern Nevada Health District attorney Stephen Minagil said during a Board of Health hearing meant to clarify some aspects of the long-contested Nevada Indoor Clean Air Act, passed by voters in November.

So yes, you can enjoy a burger and onion rings while playing video poker and downing a cold brew at bars where smoking is allowed. You’re just the one who has to take care of getting the food in front of you.

The health district’s interpretation of Question 5 is that no employee inside a stand-alone bar can serve food to, or order food for, patrons, either within its own establishment or from an outside source such as Dominoes or Pizza Hut.

Also, businesses that separate their kitchens from their bars, create a separate corporation for those kitchens and then serve food to customers inside its newly created stand-alone bar, are not following the law.

That’s what Golden Tavern Group, the owners of PT’s Pub, had done, believing it to be within the law when it created PT’s to Go as a separate business that adjoined its stand-alone bars.

Asked by board member Lawrence Weekly to clarify the circumstances under which food can be served to patrons at these bars, Minagil said, “Patrons may obtain food from an outside source or bring it in, but that restaurant cannot serve it in the bar. That’s food service. … Food service is prohibited in stand-alone bars.”

Weekly, along with other board members, directed the health district’s staff to develop regulations that could clear up any problems and challenges the agency has with enforcing Question 5. Staff was also directed to work closely with local taverns on those regulations and to gather public feedback through future workshops.

Once the regulations have been devised, they will be brought back to the board for review.

“Every law that is difficult to enforce, you have to have regulations,” said Joe Hardy, a health board member and Las Vegas physician.

Minagil said regulations would provide certainty, help avoid arguments through arbitration and allow public participation.

Recently, various interpretations of the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act have led to additional complaints from the public and local businesses, Minagil said.

Some businesses have expressed to him that the health district is inconsistent in its enforcement of the law.

“I would hesitate to say they’ve been inconsistent,” said attorney James Wadhams, representing Golden Tavern Group. “It’s been a work in progress.”

In the past nine months, Minagil said the health district has sent letters to 25 businesses addressing compliance issues.

Most, he said, have shown a willingness to comply.

Passed by voters in November, the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act bans smoking in most indoor buildings in the state, excluding casino floors, stand-alone bars and brothels. The law was challenged by Southern Nevada businesses in December.

Clark County District Judge Douglas Herndon later upheld the law but removed criminal penalties for violators of the ban, making the health district responsible for enforcement. He preserved the $100 fine for violators.

Many of the Southern Nevada businesses who had challenged the law in December have filed an appeal with the state’s Supreme Court.

Two of those businesses have filed a motion to have their names removed from that appeal, including PT’s.

Minagil said the health district’s staff has already met with representatives from the states of Ohio and Arizona about their smoke ban-related regulations.

The agency has also met with local business groups, Nevada’s Health Division, the Washoe County Health District and Carson City Department of Health and Human Services about creating uniform guidelines for enforcement of the smoke ban.

Steve Kirk, chairman of the Board of Health, said one thing businesses need to keep in mind is the health district is trying to implement a law that was brought to them by the voters.

“It didn’t come to us from members of the board,” he said. “But, we also need to be sensitive to the business community. We need to continue to work together with the industry, maybe to the point where we are equally dissatisfied.”

Public forums, once they are scheduled, will be held in Laughlin, Mesquite and Las Vegas.

Contact reporter Annette Wells at awells@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0283.

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