Tavern owners push change in no-smoking law for bars
Tavern owners Monday asked lawmakers to loosen the voter approved anti-smoking law to permit both food and smoking in their establishments.
Lobbyist Sean Higgins said when that law took effect in 2007, tavern owners were forced to choose between closing down their kitchens or banning smokers, who they said are a significant percentage of their business.
He said those taverns still have outside food delivered to customers but can’t prepare the food on site in their own kitchens. He said he doesn’t believe that is what was intended.
The ballot question approved by voters banned smoking in most public places including restaurants and grocery stores. Casino gaming areas and hotels were exempted from the law.
“The drafters of this act intended to allow people to continue smoking in stand-alone bars and taverns,” he told the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
The change proposed in Assembly Bill 571, introduced just last week, will allow those bars and taverns that don’t allow people under 21 to resume serving hamburgers and other food.
“It will allow taverns who have closed their kitchens to reopen them and rehire employees,” Higgins said.
He said not one additional establishment would be able to allow smoking under the bill as written. Asked why restaurants such as Applebees wouldn’t just change their license so they could permit smoking, he said after the hearing they can’t do that and the bill is written to make sure restaurants can’t go back to allowing smoking.
Roger Sachs, president of the Nevada Tavern Owners Association, testified that in large part because of the no-smoking law, the number of taverns in that association has dropped from more than 300 to just 105. He blamed the law for a 30 percent drop in business and the recession for another 20 percent reduction.
Jeremy Aguerro of Applied Analysis said his analysis of the industry indicates that law is responsible for a $114 million reduction in revenue and the loss of 360 jobs. He based that analysis on the fact the smoking ban took effect almost a full year before the impact of the recession hit Nevada’s leisure and entertainment industry.
During that year, he said the state’s economy including gaming was basically flat while gross revenues to taverns was down 17 percent.
Opponents of AB571, however, charged that the legislation would weaken an act their surveys say is supported by 83 percent of Nevadans.
Michael Hackett representing the American Cancer Society and the Cancer network as well as other anti-smoking advocates said it the bill would allow any bar or saloon in the state to allow smoking and serve food.