Smokers can continue to light up in Lafayette bars.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council voted 5-4 late Tuesday to kill a proposed ban on smoking in bars in the city and unincorporated areas of the parish.
Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, who proposed the ban, lamented that the more than three-hour debate on the issue often focused on questions of government regulation rather than public health.
“We made it about government, and normally when that happens, the conversation goes bad,” he said.
A crowd of mostly supporters turned out Tuesday to encourage councilmen to support the measure in a vote that came after city councils in New Orleans, Sulphur and Hammond approved similar smoking bans earlier this year.
“It’s a sad day in Lafayette,” said Grammy-winning musician Chubby Carrier, who had been a vocal supporter of the proposed ban.
Voting against the smoking ban were councilmen Jared Bellard, Andy Naquin, Don Bertrand, Keith Patin and William Theriot.
Voting in support of the ban were Boudreaux, Kevin Naquin, Jay Castille and Brandon Shelvin — one vote shy of the 5 votes needed to pass the ban.
Opponents argued the decision should be made by bar owners, most of whom are moving to prohibit smoking voluntarily.
“I just wonder why we have to have a law to deal with the minority when a lot of these business owners are just doing it on their own,” Bertrand said.
Going in to Tuesday’s meeting, four council members said they would support the measure, three said they opposed it, and two — Patin and Bertrand — were undecided.
Bertrand seemed to be leaning against the ban with comments like this at the meeting: “I think it’s a beautiful thing when government doesn’t have to be involved to make that happen.”
Supporters of the smoking ban proposal framed the issue as one of workplace safety for the bartenders, musicians and wait staff who are often forced to earn their living in the haze of secondhand smoke.
The proposed ban was backed by the The Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living and had strong support from a group of local musicians who turned out at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Josef Butts, a local bass player, said musicians can turn down gigs at smoke-filled bars, but they shouldn’t be forced to choose between their health and their paycheck.
“I can say no to an offer, but I still have to make money every week,” Butts said.
The only bar owner to speak against the smoking ban was Robin McMillan, owner of McMillan’s Pub on Simcoe Street.
She said most of her customers are smokers, and she fears she might lose them if they can’t light up in her bar.
“Is it for me to expect and pray that all these non-smokers are going to walk into my bar and make it all happen,” she said.
Bar owners downtown generally supported the smoking ban proposal, said Gus Rezende, who owns the Jefferson Street Pub downtown and is president of the Downtown Lafayette Restaurant & Bar Association.
Rezenda said the group believes a smoking ban is the right thing to do for patrons and customers and is “inevitable.”
“It’s something that is happening all over the world,” he said.
Most of the vocal opposition at Tuesday’s meeting came not from smokers but from owners of electronic cigarette shops and members of an electronic cigarette trade group.
Heather Hutton, with the Louisiana Association of Electronic Cigarette Retailers, said electronic cigarettes help wean smokers off tobacco and that banning electronic cigarettes in bars could keep current smokers from trying what she characterized as a safer alternative.
“That person is not going to try an electronic cigarette because of the perception they have of having to go sit in the smoking section,” Hutton said.
Hutton pleaded with the council not to ban electronic cigarettes from bars.
“It’s not the same,” she said. “This is a device that can save millions of lives.”