LINCOLN, NEB. Sen. Mike Friend of Omaha says Nebraska is full of hypocrites when it comes to smoking.
On one hand, he said Thursday during debate on a statewide smoking ban, many cities are trying to curtail -- if not eliminate -- smoking in public. On the other, he said, they clamor for the millions of dollars in tobacco tax money they get each year.
"Why do we let people smoke?" Friend asked sarcastically. "Why is this a legal product? If this is killing people, let's ban it."
Lawmakers began debate but did not vote on a bill (LB480) by Sen. Nancy Thompson of Papillion -- a longtime crusader against tobacco -- that would eliminate smoking in all restaurants and bars that serve food.
"There are people that think this bill doesn't go far enough and there are those that think it goes too far," she said. "I'm asking you to be progressive -- to make this a state where you can breathe clean air."
The Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act, in effect since 1980, allows businesses to choose whether to allow smoking, ban it or allow it in designated areas.
But Sen. Pat Bourne of Omaha offered an amendment that would preclude cities from enacting smoking bans that are tougher than existing state law.
Lincoln voters approved a smoking ban that went into effect in January that prohibits smoking in all public buildings -- including bars that do not sell food.
Bourne said he introduced the bill because he is concerned that Nebraska could end up with a hodgepodge of local smoking bans.
Bourne's measure would be retroactive, meaning it would invalidate Lincoln's ban.
"Government should stay out of people's lives," Bourne said. "This is big government at its best."
He also said that people who don't smoke have a choice to not frequent establishments where smoking is allowed.
Bourne also is proposing withholding cigarette tax money from cities that pass bans that are more stringent that state law.
Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey recently vetoed a smoking ban passed by the City Council.
The Omaha ban would have applied to all restaurants and other public meeting places except bars that do not have a kitchen, existing keno and membership organizations like veterans' clubs, and the local horse racing track.
Fahey had vetoed the ban because he wanted to prohibit smoking in all public places in the city.
Councilman Marc Kraft, who had originally proposed the Omaha ban, said he planned to introduce another ban after the city's elections in May.
Thompson's bill also would eliminate an exception that allows smoking in certain buildings on the Nebraska State Fairgrounds and in residence halls at state colleges.
Other lawmakers have discussed making all licensed foster-care homes smoke free and banning smoking at in-home day care centers. Now, smoking is banned at in-home day cares only when children are present.