The Lafayette City-Parish Council may soon consider a ban on smoking in bars, similar to a measure approved Thursday in New Orleans.
New Orleans joins a short list of cities in Louisiana to ban smoking in bars, and City-Parish Council Chairman Kenneth Boudreaux said he wants to add Lafayette to the roster.
He first broached the issue in 2012, sponsoring well-attended public forums to discuss the merits of a ban.
At the time, Boudreaux said he was hesitant to push for what some residents view as a government intrusion on the rights of business owners.
Boudreaux said Thursday he decided over the Christmas holidays to move forward with a proposed ban, citing comments he heard at the meetings two years ago and continuing feedback since then from bar owners, employees and patrons.
“It will still allow people to smoke when necessary. We are just asking them to do it outside,” he said.
Boudreaux said he has yet to hash out the specifics of what he will propose but said he intends to bring something to the full council this year.
“That’s exciting to hear,” said Kathy Richard, who has pushed locally for a smoking ban in bars as part of her work with the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation.
The group lobbies on behalf of smoke-free workplaces for “cultural workers,” many of whom make their living playing music or serving drinks in bars.
Richard, who was involved in efforts to win the New Orleans ban, said there was a strong push for a similar measure in Lafayette a few years ago.
“We pulled back in Lafayette because we just weren’t getting much headway,” she said.
Proponents of a smoking ban in Lafayette bars could still be facing a tough fight.
Councilman Don Bertrand said he generally supports a ban, although he wouldn’t want to commit to a proposal without seeing the details.
But Councilman William Theriot said he opposes any effort to restrict smoking in bars.
“This is a private entity, and government needs to stay out of it,” Theriot said. “... If we proceed down this road, how long will it be before big government tells you can’t smoke in your own house?”
The Lafayette City-Parish Council has waded into the smoking ban debate before, approving a law in 2005 that prohibited smoking within 25 feet of the public entrance of most businesses. However, the council killed a proposal in 2008 to ban smoking on property where a hospital or other health care facility is located.
State law already prohibits smoking in restaurants, but local governments have the option of enacting broader bans.
The vote Thursday by the New Orleans City Council bans smoking and electronic cigarettes in bars and casinos, though the council stripped more restrictive provisions that would have prohibited smoking in outdoor areas and public places.
The ban in New Orleans had been a hotly contested issue in recent weeks, with proponents arguing that secondhand smoke puts workers’ health at risk, and lobbyists for Harrah’s Casino and some bars claiming a ban would seriously impact their businesses.
Violating the ban would carry a $100 fine for the first offense, $200 for a second offense and $500 for a third offense in a 12-month period.
While the New Orleans Police Department originally would have been involved in enforcing the prohibitions, the ordinance as passed left enforcement solely in the hands of the city’s Health Department.
The new law in New Orleans does not apply to cigar or hookah bars that already exist, though those establishments cannot allow cigarette smoking.
Advocate reporter Jeff Adelson contributed to this article.