The coalition that persuaded East Baton Rouge Parish elected officials to adopt a smoking ban last year is declaring success in clearing the air.
A report issued Wednesday by Smoke-Free East Baton Rouge says indoor air pollution levels at most public places has dropped 98.8 percent since the smoke-free ordinance took effect six months ago.
The coalition's leaders say the reduced levels of air pollution means employees and patrons in Baton Rouge's bars and casinos are no longer being exposed to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, which had been a major argument in the push for the ban.
"We were not surprised by the results but were certainly excited to have confirmation that Baton Rouge area bars and casinos are no longer exposing workers or patrons to hazardous levels of air pollution resulting from indoor smoking,” Raegan Carter, a spokesman for Smoke-Free East Baton Rouge, said in a news release Wednesday announcing the results of the study.
Smoke-Free East Baton Rouge is a coalition of organizations backing efforts to prevent service workers and musicians from being exposed to secondhand smoke.
"This decrease is even more substantial than what we found when New Orleans passed its Smoke-free Law (96% reduction) so we are very pleased that the law is working as intended," Carter said in the release.
The results of the study, conducted by a New York-based cancer research center, were released by city-parish officials and the Smoke-Free EBR during a news conference Wednesday commemorating the six-month anniversary of the ordinance's implementation in June.
East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome in a statement before the news conference said passing the smoking ban was a positive step toward making Baton Rouge a "modern and progressive" city.
Nearly a year after the Metro Council passed a ban on smoking in most public places, the law is set to take effect on Friday.
Roswell Park Cancer Institute used state-of-the-art air pollution monitors at 11 area bars and three local casinos that allowed smoking in 2016 to test indoor air qualities. The average air quality in those businesses exceeded the EPA threshold for unhealthy air, and two facilities exceeded hazardous levels, the study claims.
A little more than a month after the city-parish's ordinance went into effect, researchers revisited the three casinos and three of the previously studied bars and found that air quality in all six venues fell within the "good" range of EPA's air quality index table.
According to the study, fine particle air pollution is defined as less than 2.5 microns in diameter. Particles of this size are released in significant amounts from burning cigarettes and are easily inhaled into the lungs, causing a variety of adverse health effects, including cardiovascular and respiratory disease and possible death.
The smoking ban is effective in Baton Rouge and unincorporated parts of East Baton Rouge Parish. It does not apply to the municipalities of Baker, Central and Zachary.
The law covers smoking and vaping. Under the law, any owner or manager of a bar or restaurant where the ban is violated could face a fine of up to $500 and anyone who lights up in an indoor public space could face a fine of up to $50. The law does create exemptions for established cigar bars, hookah lounges, private clubs, tobacco and vape shops.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council received a lot of pushback from the casino industry when discussions swirled around adopting the ban in summer 2017. Casino officials argued they'd lose revenue and have to cut jobs if the ban was enacted.
Wade Duty, executive director of the Louisiana Casino Association, warned at the time that local gambling halls stood to lose 10 to 15 percent of their revenue and the job force that goes along with it if a smoking ban were instituted.
Revenues at Baton Rouge's three riverboat casinos had been steadily dropping since before the smoking ban took effect. The local riverboats haven't seen a year-to-year gain in winnings since August 2017.
At Duvic's, a cocktail lounge by the Perkins Road Overpass, there was apprehension and worry about the smoking ban. After all, it was one of the smokiest bars in Baton Rouge, joked Todd Key, one of the managers. "It was very much the kind of bar that if you didn't like a smoky place, sorry," he said.
But since the ban took effect, sales at Duvic's have increased. Food sales at the bar have doubled, Key said, and a new, younger clientele that had been turned off by Duvic's smoky atmosphere has started coming in for drinks.
"The smoking ban has been nothing but beneficial for us," he said.
East Baton Rouge Parish’s ban on smoking in casinos takes effect in less than two weeks, and one local riverboat already is prepared with a sm…
At Port Royal, a College Drive bar popular with service industry workers, business has been "pretty much the same" before and after the ban, said bartender Allie Guilliams. While some customers have commented that they like going to the bar because it's now smoke-free, there's been some grumbling from regulars who are upset they now have to go outside for a cigarette, she said.
“On cold days or rainy days, it’s a little slower,” Guilliams said, because smokers have to go to a small patio behind the bar for a cigarette. “But other than that, nothing has changed.”
But the ordinance also garnered support from local businesses that already had smoking bans in place.
Happy’s Irish Pub in downtown Baton Rouge was one of the businesses that initially upset a lot of their regular customers when it enacted a smoke-free policy ahead of the city-parish one.
"But with our patio and cocktail service, we were able to adjust," C.C. Henson, the downtown bar's general manager, said in the new release Wednesday.
"I have a couple of girls who have severe allergies, so as far as the staff is concerned, they love it," he added. "Being a smoke-free bar has not only pleased our staff, but our nonsmoking patrons enjoy our experience even more."
Advocate business writer Timothy Boone contributed to this report.