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John L. Smith

Nevada hasn’t come a long way when it comes to smoking

Posted: May 23, 2012 | 2:08 a.m.

It seems like a no-brainer. Almost anywhere else in the country, it would be.

But this is Nevada, where the subculture of cigarette smoking has long held sway over public health concerns and just plain common sense. Around these parts, the idea of clean-image towns such as Mesquite and Boulder City making the transition into smoke-free communities generates jeers instead of cheers.

The fact secondhand smoke is a public health crisis is largely ignored here. Making healthier workplaces isn’t considered smart public policy and good long-range business sense. It’s highly controversial.

The people of the state in 2006 pushed through the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act, which limited smoking in public businesses. Major players carved out exemptions. Smaller operators, for the most part, simply ignored the law. Instead of improving health awareness, education and enforcement, there was a concerted effort to loosen the rules and erode the people’s intent.

In a moment of priceless understatement, the American Lung Association website deadpans, “Unfortunately, Nevada became the first state in the country to partially roll back a statewide smoking law in 2011.”

Yes, unfortunately. But that’s Nevada: marching in the wrong direction since 1864.

“The message that it sends is that the state doesn’t care about its workers because it’s a workplace safety issue,” says Amy Beaulieu, the Lung Association’s Nevada director of programs. “It means that basically we have two classes of workers here: The people who are protected from the environment, and the people who are not.”

The Lung Association grades each state on how it addresses the smoking issue. Nevada receives Fs for tobacco prevention and cessation, a D for its reliance on the cigarette tax to fund the budget, and a C for attempts to clear the smoky indoor air.

Not surprisingly, polls show most Nevadans support the NCIAA. They voted for it in the first place, remember?

The Lung Association’s statewide survey puts its approval at 83 percent, with a similar percentage of Nevadans in support of protections against secondhand smoke in the workplace. But never mind what the people want.

The numbers are undeniable, but the facts have never prevented business owners and lobbyists from denying the undeniable.

While time marches on elsewhere, it’s essentially still 1959 in Nevada, a state where there was political hand-wringing at the Legislature over the decision to ban smoking … in supermarkets.

The NCIAA enables local jurisdictions to set a higher clean indoor air standard than the state law requires. In recent months, the Lung Association has presented the case for smoke-free community status in Mesquite and Boulder City. If embraced, it would not only make the towns unique in our state but would send a message to tourists around the country who increasingly want to enjoy haze-free vacations.

At least for now, the Mesquite plan appears to have been scuttled by casino operators who expressed concerns about potential customer complaints. It’s interesting that the availability of smoking has been defined as something essential to business survival in Nevada while other states increasingly acknowledge the public health concerns.

For the record, going smoke-free hasn’t dampened profits at casinos outside the state.

“The idea that if you gamble you have to smoke doesn’t hold up in other states that have 100 percent smoke-free gambling,” Beaulieu says.

Boulder City has no gambling halls, and only 17 businesses allow customers to smoke. The Boulder City Council is said to be considering its options.

As this is Nevada, the Boulder City proposal remains a relative long shot. If traditional arguments prevail, it will be an opportunity lost.

You might consider it a no-brainer. But it’s not. Not here. Not even in 2012.

This is Nevada, where profit trumps public health and employee safety, and the smoking issue is lost in a haze of politics and propaganda.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith