Bill would ease Nevada smoking ban
April 3, 2009
CARSON CITY, Nev. ” Lobbyists for Nevada bars, restaurants and casinos clashed Friday with public health advocates during a legislative hearing on a plan to ease terms of a voter-approved measure that banned smoking in many bars and other public places.
Senate Judiciary Committee members were told by advocates of SB372, which would soften the 2006 Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act, that the change is needed because the 2006 ban has hurt many businesses and resulted in many Nevadans losing their jobs.
But critics of SB372 said public health takes precedence over smokers’ rights. Witnesses who emphasized that point included Lee Radtke of Carson City, a nonsmoker who suffered from throat cancer caused by second-hand smoke and now uses an electronic device to speak.
“I was around people who smoked and this is what happened to me,” said Radtke, showing legislators a hole in his throat.
Proponents of the bill included lobbyist Jim Wadhams, representing Golden Gaming which operates casinos, taverns and slot routes, who said the 2006 act has “just become a nightmare” because of its lack of clarity.
Wadhams added that SB372 “is not a repealer, it is not a dismantling, it is a refocusing and leaves the basic principle of the (2006) act intact. There are places were you can smoke and places where you can’t.”
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Sean Higgins, representing Herbst Gaming Inc. which has similar business interests, also backed the bill, saying Herbst lost more than $50 million from its bottom line over several months following voter approval of the 2006 measure.
Mike Hackett of Nevadans for Tobacco-Free Kids countered that voters wanted the ban in place, and lawmakers would be setting a bad precedent if they listened to the SB372 proponents who have “no credibility in any public health matter at all.”
The bill, he added, would “change this from the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act to the Nevada Air Infiltration Act.”
Hackett and other SB372 foes also argued that under the Nevada Constitution the measure can’t be amended until three years after its effective date in late 2006, which means no changes can be made until the end of this year, when a full three years will have gone by.
Attorney Stephen Minagil, representing the Southern Nevada Health District, said the district has been working to ensure compliance with the 2006 initiative and is considering a request to the 2011 Legislature to strengthen the act.
Larry Matheis of the Nevada State Medical Association, representing the Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition, termed the initiative “arguably the most successful health legislation adopted in Nevada in two generations.”
Matheis said Nevada has always been one of the top states in terms of smoking and now, according to federal reports, has dropped to about 16th place. He said approval of SB372 would make the 2006 initiative “toothless,” and added that lawmakers shouldn’t “embarrass” the state by approving the bill.
The 2006 initiative prohibits smoking in restaurants and bars that serve food, in slot machine sections of grocery and convenience stores, and at video arcades, shopping malls, schools and day-care centers. Smoking is still allowed on gambling floors of casinos.
Under SB372, smoking would be allowed in bars that serve food as long as minors are restricted from entry. Also, businesses could wall off separately ventilated smoking rooms.