Omaha pool hall defies public smoking ban

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — An Omaha pool hall that has been fighting the state's public smoking ban since it took effect in 2009 is now openly defying it by inviting its patrons to light up.

"We're making a stand here," Bill Prout, general manager of Big John's Billiards, told the Omaha World-Herald http://bit.ly/QxTQ48 ).

Prout, whose father started the business, met with a Douglas County Health Department official who showed up at the pool hall on Friday to follow up on complaints of smoking at the hall and to conduct a compliance check. The official didn't find anyone smoking, but she didn't need to. All around the hall were ashtrays and signs stating, "This is a smoking establishment," and "Warning: Smoker friendly pool hall."

Prout also told the official that the hall has been allowing smoking, and will continue to do so.

The official's report could end up on the desk of local prosecutors, who could issue a $100 ticket for a first-time violation. Subsequent violations can bring up to a $500 fine for each.

Prout, 42, said he remains defiant because he stands to lose thousands of dollars a month in smokers who won't patronize his place if smoking isn't allowed.

"Nobody wants to leave in the middle of a game of pool to go outside and smoke a cigarette," he said of Big John's.

The business, which serves food and liquor, can't erect an outdoor beer garden and smoking area without violating a local zoning ordinance requiring a certain number of parking spots, Prout said.

Prout, who also has a pool hall in Lincoln, has fought the smoking ban since the city of Lincoln enacted a public smoking ban in 2006. He expanded his legal fight after the statewide ban was enacted in 2009. His lawsuit is pending.

The state law bans smoking in all public buildings and private businesses, including bars and restaurants. The law includes exceptions for cigar bars, some hotel rooms, tobacco-only retailers and facilities that research the health effects of smoking.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com

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