Nevada Revisits Indoor Smoking Ban… Barely

Critics called Senate Bill 372 a potential “gutting” of the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act, the 2006 voter-approved ban on smoking in public places. But like everything surrounding the highly-charged subject of tobacco, there was considerable debate over the goals and consequences of this attempt to revise a highly contentious smoking ban that still has business owners fighting three years after its passage.

Nevada’s tavern industry contends the original bill was poorly written, leading to confusion among the public as to where smoking was in fact permitted or banned. The ban declared simply that food could not be served where smoking is permitted. “So tavern and bar owners were forced to choose between allowing smoking or serving food,” explains Gene Hill, president of the Nevada Tavern Owners Association. “Those who chose smoking saw their mealtime crowds disappear; those who chose serving food saw the smokers go away.” Hill contends that despite statements to the contrary, the hospitality industry has indeed been dealt a serious blow; business is down, and non-smoking patrons have never replaced the lost business of smokers.

The tavern association sought changes to allow smoking in bars that serve food as long as minors are restricted from entry, but the bill died in the Assembly Judiciary Committee in May and looked like it was history.

But a last-minute maneuver to revive a single, narrow part of the indoor smoking bill succeeded on the final day of the 2009 Nevada legislature with an amendment into an unrelated crime bill. The measure would specifically allow smoking inside exhibit halls at conventions and trade shows which deal with tobacco products, a key development for our industry.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority sought the change because both the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association convention and trade show, held at the Sands Exposition Center, and the Tobacco Plus Expo, held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, canceled all future Nevada conventions after the ban took effect.

“My client wants to come back to Las Vegas,” said Trevor Hayes, lobbyist for the IPCPR. “Between them and the Tobacco Plus Expo, they’ve brought in $41 million over the last four years.”

Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, reasoned, “Allowing smoking at a convention that’s not open to the public is not doing any violence to the Indoor Clean Air Act.” The legislation containing the amendment was passed in the legislative session’s closing hours, and at press time the governor was expected to approve the bill, according to the IPCPR, since historically Nevada’s governors rarely veto legislation approved by the state legislature.

The IPCPR already announced that it will negotiate space for the Annual Convention & International Trade Show for 2011 if smoking is indeed allowed in convention centers. IPCPR already has contracted space for the 2009 and 2010 trade shows in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. Tavern owners, meanwhile, will have to decide whether to continue their efforts during the next legislative session. They certainly wouldn’t be alone, as Illinois, Ohio, Hawaii, Colorado, and Nebraska have all engaged debate in revisiting their smoking bans.

E. Edward Hoyt III