The City-Parish Council could decide before the summer whether to ban smoking in bars.
Council Chairman Kenneth Boudreaux announced at a news conference on Wednesday that he plans to bring a proposed ban to the full council within 90 days.
The councilman said he has no illusions of easy passage, considering the nine-member council is up for re-election this year and the issue is sure to bring out strong voices on both sides.
“There is always the right time to do the right thing, and the time is now,” Boudreaux said, brushing aside arguments that a ban was a strike at the rights of smokers and bar owners.
“My position is, and will remain, that your rights end where mine begin.”
It remains to be seen whether a majority of council members will agree.
Boudreaux said last week that he was considering moving forward with the ban.
Interviews with other council members since then make clear that no consensus has emerged. Three members say they support a ban, three are against it and three say they aren’t sure how they will vote.
Boudreaux began discussing the possibility of a smoking ban in 2012 and sponsored a series of public forums on the issue.
His announcement Wednesday comes a week after the New Orleans City Council voted to ban smoking in bars.
Boudreaux said he had made up his mind to act several weeks before the New Orleans vote, prompted by concerns about the health of wait staff, bartenders, musicians and others who, even though they don’t smoke, might be tied to a badly needed job in a smoky bar.
“I think we have an obligation to protect others,” he said.
That message will not likely resonate with at least three council members.
Councilmen Andy Naquin, Jared Bellard and William Theriot all said they oppose the ban, arguing that business owners should be allowed to set their own smoking policies and that patrons and workers can choose to stay away.
“I really think the establishment should have their own say in that and it should be voluntary,” Naquin said. “That’s what America is about: freedom of choice. I would love to see everybody voluntarily have smoking bans, but I don’t think government should be involved.”
Councilmen Don Bertrand and Jay Castille said they generally support the idea of a smoking ban, though they haven’t seen the specifics of Boudreaux’s proposal.
Two other council members would be needed for a five-member majority, so passage of a ban seems to hinge on councilmen Kevin Naquin, Keith Patin and Brandon Shelvin.
All three said they were undecided.
Shelvin, who represents downtown, said he needs to discuss the issue with the many bar owners there.
Patin and Naquin were on the fence.
“That is a concept that maybe we should revisit,” Patin said. “I know there is some traction. I see both sides.”
But he added this observation: “I also believe we live in a free society.”
The push for a ban in Lafayette is backed by the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living and the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation, a group that represents so-called “cultural workers,” such as musicians.
Grammy-winning musician Chubby Carrier, a vocal advocate for smoke-free entertainment venues, spoke in support of the ban at the Wednesday meeting Boudreaux called to discuss the issue.
Boudreaux said he feels most bar owners favor a smoking ban, as long as it applies to all bars.
“A lot of them support it, but they, in essence, don’t want to be the bad guy,” he said.
The ordinance proposed by Boudreaux would apply to the city of Lafayette and unincorporated areas of the parish.
The City-Parish Council does not have the authority to pass laws for the five smaller municipalities in the parish — Youngsville, Broussard, Carencro, Scott and Duson — and Andy Naquin said a ban could result in smokers leaving Lafayette for bars in other areas.
“You may chase all the smokers to a different city,” he said.
Boudreaux said other municipalities in the parish would likely institute their own bans if one passes in Lafayette.
“I think this will be a measuring stick for the parish,” he said.
State law already prohibits smoking in restaurants.
Local governments have the option of enacting broader bans, and the Lafayette City-Parish Council has a mixed history with smoking-related laws.
The council approved a law in 2005 that prohibited smoking within 25 feet of the public entrance of most businesses.
But three years later, the council killed a 2008 measure to ban smoking on property where a hospital or other health care facility is located.
Since then, all private hospitals in Lafayette have voluntarily gone smoke-free, and the last holdout, the state-owned University Hospital & Clinics, recently announced that it will ban tobacco on hospital property beginning Feb. 1.