The American Cancer Society is suing the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, claiming a recently passed measure allowing smoking in some convention areas violates the Nevada Constitution.
The Cancer Society’s Great West Division and its Cancer Action Network filed the complaint against the convention authority, Nevada State Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and public health officials over a revision to the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act. The measure, which was tacked on to the anti-stalking bill AB 309 in the closing hours of the last legislative session, violates the state constitution’s single-subject rule, the society claims.
The same measure, generally allowing smoking at tobacco conventions, failed to make it out of committee earlier in the 2009 Nevada Legislature.
“Our (Nevada) Constitution says you cannot do that,” said Tom McCoy, the director of government affairs for the state’s chapter of the American Cancer Society. “We felt the Legislature did not have the authority to do this.”
The complaint seeks to revise the law again so it only addresses stalking.
The Cancer Society believes it is in a stronger position now to challenge the law because the criminal penalties were removed from the smoking ban by the Nevada Supreme Court in September, making it a civil law. Most of AB 309 relates to the crime of stalking, and the Legislative Counsel Bureau maintains that legal precedent allows for more than one crime to be addressed in a single state law.
“The title of the law refers to smoking and stalking as the crimes,” Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Lorne Malkiewich said. “There are many laws passed that include more than one crime.”
AB 309 did not take effect until Dec. 9, the same day the Cancer Society’s lawsuit was filed in Carson City District Court. Dec. 8 marked the 3-year anniversary of the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act becoming a law. It was passed by voters as an initiative and could not be amended for three years.
The Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act is now amended by AB 309 to allow smoking at tobacco conventions. One of the most prominent of those conventions is the Tobacco Plus Expo, which is scheduled for March at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The tobacco convention was last held in Las Vegas in 2008, but exhibitors and attendees were not allowed to sample tobacco products. The Tobacco Plus Expo and the Retail Tobacco Dealers conventions held at the Sands Expo and Convention Center combined for 27,000 attendees and a $41 million economic impact over the last six years, according to the authority.
Convention authority spokesman Vince Alberta denied that any violations took place.
“The lawsuit has no merit and we will outline our arguments through the legal process,” Alberta said in an e-mail.
McCoy expressed concern for the employees who must work at smoke-filled tobacco conventions. He also worries about the harmful effects of “thirdhand smoke”– the tobacco smoke that lingers in areas and attaches itself to objects long after the smoking has stopped.
“It could be a tobacco convention one day, but the Boy Scouts are in there the next day,” he said.
McCoy said it is also important to protect the integrity of the smoking ban.
“This has nothing to do with the stalking bill … and obviously, when you pass an initiative, you don’t want it chipped away at,” he said.
The convention authority was named in the lawsuit because it “pushed” for the amendment of the stalking bill to include the revisions to the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act. The state attorney general was added to the complaint because it’s typical to do so when challenging a law’s constitutionality, McCoy said.
State health officials were given the duty of enforcing the smoking ban and therefore also named in the lawsuit. Among those listed as defendants: Nevada State Health Officer Tracey Green, Southern Nevada Health District Chief Health Officer Lawrence Sands, Washoe County District Health Officer Mary Anderson and Carson City Health and Human Services Director Marena Works.
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