The last remnants of lit cigarettes legally allowed in Baton Rouge’s bars and casinos could soon turn to ash if a campaign unveiled Tuesday is successful in creating an East Baton Rouge Parish ordinance to prohibit smoking in all workplaces.
A group of doctors, public health officials, bar owners, musicians and others announced Tuesday they want Baton Rouge to tighten smoking laws, citing public health and quality-of-life benefits. Councilwomen Tara Wicker and Chauna Banks-Daniel said they will bring an ordinance proposal to the parish Metro Council once the smoke free campaign has gained traction and they have lined up the votes for it.
“Where is the anger over second-hand smoke?” asked Jule Assercq, a Baton Rouge physician who has worked closely with asthma patients. “We don’t need to measure that in parts per million, you can see it and you can smell it.”
A handful of local people delivered testimonies Tuesday night at a community meeting at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church about how smoking affected their lives and the lives of their family members.
Jim Hobart, vice president of Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies, also revealed a poll that indicates 70 percent of people in Baton Rouge said they would favor a local ordinance that “prohibited smoking in all workplaces, including casinos and bars.”
The survey was given to 500 registered voters in East Baton Rouge Parish who Public Opinion Strategies interviewed over the phone in December of 2015. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.38 percent.
Many cities across the country have considered smoking bans, with New Orleans having enacted its ban for bars and casinos in April 2015. The City Council in Lafayette voted in May against a ban on smoking in all bars.
A smoking ban in Baton Rouge could have huge implications for casinos.
In New Orleans, Harrah’s Hotel and Casino has seen revenues drop since the smoking ban went into effect.
Revenue dropped in June at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino in New Orleans by 30 percent, a decline its top leader blamed on the then-new smoking ban. And while Harrah’s brought in more money the next month, its annual earnings were down from previous year.
Wicker said she is more concerned for the casino employees — many of whom are unable to obtain jobs elsewhere — than she is for the casinos’ bottom lines.
Lydia Kuykendal, the government relations director for the American Cancer Society in Louisiana, said casinos should recognize that banning smoking will make their employees healthier and also drive down their health care costs.
“We hope this is something the casinos can get behind,” she said.
“There is no reason an employee should have to suck down the smoke from everyone else,” said Stasha Rhodes, a community organizer with The Red Team advocacy group and former director of government affairs for the American Heart Association.
Tobacco smoke contains more than 70 chemicals and compounds that cause cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Louisiana Campaign for a Tobacco-Free Living estimates that people who work in bars and gaming facilities breathe enough secondhand smoke to have the same health problems as a one pack-a-day smoker.
Joe Hall, owner of Baton Rouge’s Phil Brady’s Bar and Grill, said he has gradually tried to make his Government Street establishment become more smoke free. No smoking is allowed during entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights, and he said Baton Rouge is behind the times.
Smoking can have especially disastrous consequences for children who grow up in smoky environments, the doctors and health professionals said.
“I take care of the little bitty babies who are born preterm because of smoke,” said Betsy Braud Hodnett, a nurse at Woman’s Hospital and also a musician. She said she is frustrated when mothers who reek of smoke come to visit their babies, and she asks them to change before they hold their infant.
The Rev. Rick Andrus, pastor at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, said smoking is more than a public health issue; morality and faith also play a part. He said he realized how precious life is when he gave up smoking and that people who support smoking in bars and casinos while knowing the health effects to the employees are “morally bankrupt.”
“Any person who tells me they are pro-life while blowing smoke in my face is a liar,” Andrus said.