A proposal that would make it illegal to smoke in most indoor public places, including bars and casinos, appears poised to win approval from the New Orleans City Council on Thursday as long as the measure does not require that the New Orleans Police Department act as an enforcement agency for the ban.
Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who introduced the ordinance, said she believes at least four other members on the seven-person council will vote for it.
“I think we’re in good shape in taking a step toward protecting our residents, our employees, our musicians,” Cantrell said Wednesday.
She said council members Susan Guidry, Stacy Head and James Gray all have signaled their support. Councilman Jason Williams said he will vote for the measure if it includes his amendment specifying the NOPD won’t be involved in enforcement.
It is unclear where council members Nadine Ramsey and Jared Brossett stand on the issue. Neither returned telephone calls seeking comment.
The ordinance may ultimately end up including other amendments — from council members and Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration — that would, for instance, allow smoking on certain patios and balconies.
Cantrell said, however, that she has no plan to remove a prohibition on smoking electronic cigarettes indoors despite pressure from e-cigarette lobbyists to exempt the devices.
“The data is not concrete as it relates to (the safety of) e-cigarettes,” Cantrell said. “Until they’ve been regulated, we have to just wait on that.”
The measure before the council would make it illegal, with a few exceptions, to smoke in all enclosed public spaces, private clubs, correctional facilities and school buildings in the city. Smoking also would be prohibited in parks during public events sponsored by the city and outdoors within 25 feet of public property and within 5 feet of commercial buildings.
The ordinance includes an exception for cigar and hookah bars in operation prior to Jan. 8.
The measure essentially extends the Louisiana Smoke-Free Air Act of 2007, which banned smoking in restaurants and most workplaces but allows smoking in casinos and in bars that are not attached to restaurants.
Violating the ban would carry a $100 fine for individuals for a first offense, plus up to $200 for a second offense and up to $500 for a third offense if those take place within 12 months of the first violation.
In addition to the individual fines, owners, managers and operators of bars, casinos or other public places that do not enforce the ban could have their operating permits or licenses suspended or revoked.
The ordinance gives enforcement power to the departments of Health, Safety and Permits, Code Enforcement and Parks and Parkways, as well as the Recreation Development Commission, the Fire Department and the NOPD.
But Williams intends to offer an amendment removing the Police Department from that list. He said the undermanned department should focus its limited resources on preventing and solving violent crimes.
“While we promote safety in one arena, we must not diminish safety in another,” Williams said. “Placing any additional burdens on the already over-burdened NOPD is unacceptable at this time.”
Williams said he also is attempting to diminish the opportunity for officers to use the ban on smoking to “conduct pretextual stops,” which he said are a form of harassment often used to target minorities.
“Provisions of the ordinance could easily be abused by an officer looking to stop an innocent citizen,” he said. “Removing officers from enforcement removes this temptation.”
NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said the department did not request the amendment but does support it.
Williams said he would not vote for the overall ordinance if the amendment is not adopted. He said he believes he has the support of most of his colleagues. Both Gray and Guidry said they would support the amendment.
Cantrell also said she would not object to it.
“I’m good with it,” she said.