New Orleans City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell plans to introduce an ordinance next week that would ban smoking in the city’s bars and casinos, a step plenty of U.S. cities have taken already but one that will doubtless stir controversy nonetheless.
Cantrell, who represents District B, would introduce the new rules for a first reading during next week’s council meeting, with debate to follow over the next few weeks.
It could mean another of the raucous discussions — over sound limits, for instance, or restrictions on go-cups for alcohol — that pit the city’s famed tolerance for vice against calls for modern improvements in health and safety.
Already, the proposal has drawn criticism from the Bourbon Street bars and clubs that fought attempts all year to place more stringent caps on the decibel levels pouring out of their front doors and windows.
Chris Young, an attorney representing the French Quarter Business League, which represents dozens of French Quarter establishments, said the proposal would cut against the rights of business owners to set their own rules — and possibly hurt their bottom lines.
He said a ban would amount to “tampering with New Orleans’ culture.”
“That’s an attraction for a lot of people. We want to maintain that image,” he said. “It’s a cultural thing. We don’t want to tamper with that.”
Young acknowledged that smoking inside public buildings is probably on its way out in any case, but objected to local government intruding on decisions that he argued should be made by businesses and individuals.
“Over time, smoking is going to be the exception rather than the rule,” he said. “The majority of them are going to be non-smoking on their own anyway. That’s the way it should happen, in their opinion, because it should be a business decision made in conjunction with the business’ customers.”
Cantrell’s announcement Wednesday, which coincided with the city’s “Smoke-Free 2.0” week, was not the first time she has taken a public stance against smoking. During a City Council meeting in April, she recognized several bar owners who had banned smoking voluntarily, a group that she said at the time numbered about 99 bars.
“It is a movement that I champion 100 percent, knowing the health disparities that exist in our community, understanding the cause and effects of secondhand smoke and also know the only way to prevent these causes is to become smoke-free,” she said at the time.
Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that about 21 percent of Louisiana residents who are 18 and older are cigarette smokers, good for No. 37 among the U.S. An estimated 35,000 nonsmokers die from coronary health disease in the U.S. each year as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the CDC.
The local push to ban smoking in bars comes seven years after Louisiana became the 19th state in the country to mostly prohibit it at the state level.
In recent months, nearly all colleges and university campuses in New Orleans have gone tobacco-free or are taking steps in that direction.
Public schools across Louisiana, including the University of New Orleans, were required to go smoke-free Aug. 1 under a law passed by the Legislature last year, aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles and cutting down on secondhand smoke exposure. Delgado Community College and Tulane University both went tobacco-free in August.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.