Issue: Should the 2003 Legislature place more restrictions on smoking in public places?
The Voting Public Supports Smoking Restrictions
By Helen Foley
While there is a growing trend to eliminate smoking in public places, that trend has yet to catch on in Nevada. Despite the fact that Nevadans suffer disproportionately from the health and economic effects of tobacco and secondhand smoke, only 49 percent of our workplaces are smoke-free. Worse, people are exposed to secondhand smoke in places where they go to conduct the business of daily living (grocery stores, pharmacies, shopping malls, etc.). In Nevada, it is against the law for local school boards to ban smoking in schools.
Tobacco control regulations in Nevada are among the weakest in the country, while death and disease rates due to tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure are among the highest. Nevada law prevents local governments from enacting laws on tobacco, and up until now the Legislature has not been willing to change that.
We have earned the nickname of “the smokiest state in the nation”. A report released this month by the American Lung Association gave Nevada an “F” for our efforts to protect people from secondhand smoke, and it estimated annual economic costs due to smoking at $1.2 billion. Nevada consistently ranks above the national average of deaths from smoking-related cancers.
During the past two Nevada legislative sessions, efforts were made to restrict tobacco use. A 1999 proposal by the Clark County Health District (CCHD) and the Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition (NTPC) would have allowed local governments greater authority to restrict smoking in public places. This effort was soundly defeated in the Assembly Judiciary Committee. As late as 2001, the Assembly Judiciary Committee again refused to pass stricter tobacco laws.
With the resounding passage of two tobacco advisory questions on the November ballot in both Clark and Washoe Counties, tobacco prevention advocates are armed with overwhelming public support to restrict smoking in public places, especially places frequented by children.
The CCHD, along with the Washoe County Health District, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, NTPC and many other organizations, will be working closely with legislators to enact stricter laws on tobacco use in public places.
Current Laws Protect Freedom of Choice
By Mary Lau
Should adults be allowed to smoke in public places? The question is hotly debated by the public, and Nevada’s legislators continue to work to strike a balance between an adult consumer’s freedom of choice and the health risks of the general public.
In 1995 Nevada became one of the first states to place stringent prohibitions on tobacco use in any form – not just cigarettes – in certain public places. The law also targeted teen smoking, holding retailers accountable for their tobacco sales. Both owners and employees of supermarkets, convenience stores, smoke shops and other retail stores can be fined for selling tobacco to minors. Failure to adhere to the law means heavy penalties, including fining owners and employees and causing employees to lose their jobs.
The legislation also required that the state attorney general implement a program of enforcement and conduct “sting” operations to verify that retailers comply with the law. In 1995, before the Nevada law, the youth buy-rate was estimated to be above 69 percent. As of this writing, John Albrecht, program administrator, reported that the 2002 winter/spring buy-rate was 17.77 percent, and as of January 2003, it was 11.89 percent. Obviously the program works.
Many think there are no smoking prohibitions in Nevada other than in restaurants. This is not true. NRS 202-2491 includes prohibitions such as restricting smoking in the public area of a store principally devoted to food sales for human consumption off the premises.
Nevada’s legislators continue to refine our tobacco laws. In 1999 they required that grocery store gaming areas (in excess of 10,000 sq. ft) be segregated from other public areas and contain a ventilation method to remove smoke from the area. The law includes new stores and remodeled stores.
New laws may not be necessary. Public demand, not new laws, is restricting smoking in public places. We have good laws, which are working to protect our children’s health, and every day people and businesses are choosing to go smoke free. I say we don’t need a law restricting freedoms – we need to allow for common sense and public action.
Nevada’s tobacco laws protect freedom of choice for businesses and the public.