Armed with voter support from the state's two largest counties, anti-smoking advocates hope the Legislature finally will pass laws this spring to restrict smoking in Nevada.
Sen. Ray Rawson, R-Las Vegas, chairman of the Legislature's Task Force for the Fund for a Healthy Nevada, has drafted a bill to put into law two ballot questions overwhelmingly approved by voters in Clark and Washoe counties in November.
By a 3-to-2 majority in both counties, voters said they wanted to give their health departments the authority to adopt regulations against secondhand smoke that are stronger than state law.
And by a 2-to-1 majority, they also voted in favor of prohibiting smoking in schools, grocery stores, restaurants and government buildings. Smoking still would be permitted in casinos, bars and taverns.
Approval of anti-smoking legislation would mark a departure from the 1999 and 2001 legislative sessions, when similar proposals died in the Assembly Judiciary Committee without formal votes.
Those bills had been opposed by powerful lobbyist Harvey Whittemore, who represented the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. He contended that anti-smoking advocates wanted to outlaw all public smoking, including in bars and casinos.
R.J. Reynolds spokesman John Singleton said his company again will oppose the anti-smoking legislation. Rather than dictate that smoking should be prohibited in supermarkets and restaurants, legislators should let store owners decide, he said.
"Leave it up to the owner-operators," Singleton said. "Let the marketplace decide. People will come to know if a business has a no-smoking policy or not. People who don't want smoking can go to another place."
Singleton added that Nevada and at least 16 other states want to balance their budgets this year on the habits of smokers who already pay a disproportionate share of state taxes. Twenty-one states increased cigarette taxes last year.
Gov. Kenny Guinn wants to increase the state's 35-cent per pack cigarette tax to $1.05. Rawson's task force proposed an increase a nickel less than the governor's proposal.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that for each 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes, a permanent 2 percent decline in smoking occurs.
"It is a health issue," said Rawson, a dentist who has led the Senate's health and education committee for much of his 18-year legislative career.
"We can't outlaw smoking, but I would like to see us reduce smoking. The revenue is a superfluous issue."
The legislative campaign to restrict smoking will be led by the Nevada Tobacco Prevention Coalition, whose members include the Clark County Health District, the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Association and the American Heart Association.