RENO - Nevada's smoking laws have not hurt business at restaurants and bars, according to a study by an advocacy group that was released as lawmakers debate a bill that would water down the restrictions.
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network says an analysis of state taxable sales records shows restaurants and bars had experienced consistent monthly sales declines long before the voter-approved Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act took effect in December 2006.
The nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the society blames the recession for such sales declines in Clark and Washoe counties in the 2007 and 2008 fiscal years, but maintains restaurant and bar sales outpaced the state's overall economy in the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years despite no changes to the smoking law.
"Don't blame commonsense health policy for bigger, unrelated economic trends that have unfortunately affected restaurants, taverns and thousands of other businesses in Nevada," said Michael Hackett, a lobbyist representing the affiliate and manager of the 2006 ballot initiative campaign.
Bob Bonner, a board member of the Nevada Tavern Owners Association, said the affiliate's numbers are "absolutely wrong" and that the law has hurt business at his Torrey Pines Pub in Las Vegas. Food sales dropped by 50 percent at the bar the first year after the law took effect.
The law bans smoking in restaurants, bars that serve food, malls, grocery stores and government buildings. Smoking remains legal in casinos, bars that don't serve food and where food is considered an "incidental" component of the business.
"There's no doubt the recession hurt us. It has hurt everyone," Bonner said. "But there is no doubt the smoking ban has hurt us and has hurt many taverns nationwide.
"The American Cancer Society is a national organization that doesn't realize the correlation between gaming and smoking in the state. Having to choose between serving food or allowing smoking when you're a (tavern offering gambling), your only choice is to choose smoking," he added.
Tavern owners are making a late-season pitch at the Legislature to ease the voter-approved restrictions on indoor smoking, arguing that the law intended to protect the health or children and families has crippled their businesses by barring them from serving food if they allow smoking.
AB571 would allow smoking and food service in age-restricted, stand-alone bars, taverns and saloons.
American Cancer Society representatives say the bill also would allow smoking in some eateries with liquor permits, including establishments visited by children and their families.
"These government records don't lie, and I question why the proponents of AB571 insist on ignoring the truth," said Delia Oliveri, a volunteer with the society's affiliate.