After failed attempts to pass a law that would ban smoking in casinos, bars and sports arenas statewide, an Acadiana legislator settled Thursday for a study on efforts to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke.
House Concurrent Resolution 76 was approved Thursday on a 33-0 vote in the Senate.
The Louisiana Public Health Institute is charged in the resolution to convene a committee of 22 members chosen by associations representing health, business, gambling and local government interests. The committee will compile information about how tobacco smoke inhaled by nonsmokers effects medical costs and illnesses, as well as comparing the economic impact of implementing a statewide smoke-free policy to other parishes and states.
“Not that there’s not a ton of information out there, I felt as if Louisiana businesses and legislators needed to go to the table and talk some more,” said Opelousas Democrat and chief sponsor of the legislation Rep. Dustin Miller.
Miller proposed HB881 in April to extend the existing law — which was passed in 2006 to ban smoking in restaurants and most public places — to bars, casinos and sports arenas.
But after hearing concerns from business owners in a House Health and Welfare Committee meeting on April 12, Miller postponed his effort to promote the comprehensive statewide smoking ban and put the legislation on the back burner before finally deciding to form a study committee.
Beginning no later than Aug. 1, the committee would have until March 8, 2019 to report its findings to the legislature.
Miller said he would expect the issue to be discussed again next year.
“There are no plans to stop the push to implement this in the state,” he said.
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American Heart Association Government Relations Director Ashley Hebert, whose organization will serve on the committee, said the study intends to address the disparity between municipalities in the state that have smoke-free policies that include casinos and bars and those local governments that don’t.
New Orleans passed legislation in 2015 to ban indoor smoking and the use of e-cigarettes to protect service industry workers and musicians from secondhand smoke. In August 2017, Baton Rouge outlawed smoking inside the city's bars and casinos.
Additionally, all the bars in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Alexandria, Monroe, West Monroe, Hammond and Ouachita Parish are completely smoke-free. Some bars in Shreveport, Lake Charles and the Houma/Thibodaux areas have banned smoking, according to the Healthier for All organization.
Twenty-five states have implemented comprehensive smoke-free laws that cover workplaces, restaurants and bars, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. Those states include Arizona, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.
Colorado, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Mexico and North Carolina have policies that cover just restaurants and bars.
Representatives from the state’s gaming industry opposed Miller’s measure during the April 12 committee meeting, as they were concerned the bill would hurt state revenue.
Alton Ashy, a lobbyist for the Louisiana Video Gaming Association, told the committee that gaming garners $180 million in direct tax revenue and directly employs over 15,000 in the state.
Though Miller sympathizes with the tax revenue from the gaming industry, he said he is more concerned with the effects and healthcare costs of smoking.
In the committee meeting, Miller said the state suffers almost $1.89 billion annually in health care costs for smoking-related deaths.
The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and State Toll of Tobacco reported a total of $803 million in Medicaid costs caused by smoking in Louisiana.
“We definitely believe that economic development in Louisiana is a great thing,” Hebert said in response to the pushback from casinos. “Smoke-free air should be part of that conversation, as well.”