Churchill County delays enforcement of smoking prohibition
December 9, 2006
FALLON – Churchill County District Attorney Arthur Mallory is advising the sheriff’s department to hold off enforcing a smoking ban that went into effect Friday in Northern Nevada.
The advice came after a group of Southern Nevada businessmen challenged whether the voter-approved law is constitutional. A Las Vegas judge issued a 15-day reprieve on the ban Thursday, but it only applies to Clark County.
Judge Douglas Herndon ruled that the business owners who are challenging the smoking ban could have a legitimate argument.
Mallory said it is unwise to enforce the smoking law in Churchill County until the issue is decided in Clark County.
“If the law is declared unconstitutional, we would be spinning our wheels,” Mallory said. “We think it’s appropriate to wait for a ruling from the court.”
He said the law’s language is not clear and raises questions. He referred to one section of the statute that says police officers or health officials shall issue citations for violations.
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“The question arises, who do they issue the citation to, the person smoking or the restaurant that allowed smoking?” Mallory asked.
Fallon Police Chief Russ Brooks said Friday he hadn’t received any notification from the state Attorney General’s Office about the new law or whether his agency is responsible for enforcing it.
“I do not know who’s supposed to enforce it. Until we hear something from the AG’s office, we’re scrambling to get an answer,” said Brooks.
Mallory said another issue that must be determined is the level of resources each agency wants to devote to illegal smoking.
“Our restaurants are not an overriding place law enforcement currently patrols. Do we want to start patrolling restaurants? I don’t think so. I don’t think we need to become smoking police,” he said. “We would probably respond on a complaint basis.”
The definition of a casino is also unclear. Mallory said a casino is described in the law as a large building or room that holds a gaming license and has “casino” in its name.
Once the court makes a ruling, he said, he will recommend an educational period before citations are written so residents understand the new law.
The Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act was approved by 54 percent of state voters in the November election. It prohibits smoking in bars that serve food, video arcades, malls, day-care centers and in slot machine areas of convenience stores and grocery stores.
It permits smoking on casino floors.
The Nevada Tavern Owners Association asked for a “breathing period” to give both sides of the issue time to argue the constitutional merits of the case. The suit contends the law is vague and unfairly discriminates against some businesses.
Opponents, including the state Attorney General’s Office, argued that business owners have not shown the smoking ban would harm their businesses.
The restraining order approved by Herndon prevents officers from enforcing the law in Clark County because only Las-Vegas area law enforcement agencies were named in the suit, according to Nicole Moon, public information officer for the Attorney General’s Office.
“It is in effect,” she said about Northern Nevada. “Whether law enforcement wants to begin enforcing it now or not is up to them.”
• The Associated Press contributed to this story.