- Associated Press - Thursday, May 29, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The Nebraska Supreme Court will decide whether a lower court was right to strike down exceptions in the state’s public smoking ban for some businesses such as cigar bars and tobacco shops.

The state's high court heard arguments Wednesday in the case of Big John’s Billiards, an Omaha pool hall, whose owner sued after the state enacted a statewide public smoking ban in 2009. The law bans smoking in all public buildings and private businesses, including bars and restaurants. However, the law provides exceptions for cigar bars, some hotel rooms, tobacco-only retailers and facilities that research the health effects of smoking.

Big John’s had argued that it had a right to allow smoking and that not being able to would hurt its revenue. In fact, an attorney for the business argued Wednesday, Big John’s billiards hall in Lincoln went out of business because the ban drove patrons away.

A Lancaster County judge upheld the statewide ban last year, but found that the ban’s exceptions were unfair and, therefore, unconstitutional. The state appealed.

An attorney for the state argued Wednesday before the state Supreme Court that that the exemptions are vital to protecting an economic interest in the state, the Lincoln Journal Star reported (http://bit.ly/1nxDSeN ).

“Cigar bars would go out of business if people couldn’t smoke cigars (there),” Assistant Attorney General Dale Comer said.

There are 11 active cigar bars across Nebraska, according to state Liquor Control Commission license data.

Comer argued the cigar bars provide jobs and tax revenue for the state.

“Isn’t that the same argument pools halls could make?” Chief Justice Michael Heavican asked.

Comer replied that a pool hall that wanted to allow cigar smoking inside could get a cigar bar license.

But Big John’s attorney, Ted Boecker, said the exemptions run counter to the original intention of the smoking ban, which he said was to eliminate employee exposure to secondhand smoke indoors.

“You can’t say the health of waitresses in a cigar bar is worth less than the health of a waitress in a pool hall,” Boecker argued.

The state's high court will determine whether those exceptions are permissible.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com