Tomorrow, the New Orleans City Council holds its first public meeting on a measure that could extend a smoking ban to bars and casinos. District B City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell's ordinance, as written, also bans all tobacco products and their use within 25 feet of all businesses. Cantrell and supporters, including many public health organizations and city officials, including Mayor Mitch Landrieu and health department director Charlotte Parent, say that an extended smoking ban is a public health measure meant to protect to all employees regardless of their workplace.
Opponents fear not only losing business by forcing smokers on the sidewalk, but creating a logistical problem in especially business-dense areas like the French Quarter, where many businesses are within 25 feet of one another. (District C Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, whose district includes the French Quarter, already is trying to exempt cigar bars from the measure.)
But according to the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), most New Orleanians are in favor of extending the smoking ban. Eighty percent of registered voters polled last month agreed that "the rights of employees and customers to breathe clean air are more important than the rights of smokers and owners to allow smoking."
The American Cancer Society's advocacy group hired Public Opinion Strategies to conduct the poll, which surveyed 200 people Dec. 16-18. Among the findings, 56 percent of respondents "strongly favor" the proposed ordinance, while only 16 percent "strongly oppose." (Of those on the fence, 11 percent "somewhat favor" the ordinance and 16 percent "somewhat oppose.") The majority support also was spread among all five City Council districts.
[jump] "Any way you slice the cross tabs, there is strong support to extend a ban to bars and casinos," said Public Opinion Strategies' partner Glen Bolger.
Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they are more likely to visit bars and casinos if smoking is banned there - including 64 percent of "regular" smokers (though only 27 percent of "occasional" smokers).
The Louisiana Public Health Institute (LPHI) and the SmokeFree New Orleans Coalition (which includes ACS CAN, the American Lung Association, American Heart Association, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights and Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation and other groups) are leading the campaign to support the measure. In a statement, LPHI wrote,"The fact is, there is no risk free level of exposure to secondhand smoke; even brief exposure can be harmful to health. Eliminating smoking in indoor spaces is the only way to fully protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke exposure."
Dr. Kyle Happel, a lung doctor with the LSU Health Sciences Center, said workers - particularly musicians working in smoky venues - should be "free of the burden to perform in smoke."
"We ask the New Orleans City Council to pass a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance protecting all workers," said Amber Stevens, a cancer survivor who has volunteered with the ACS for 17 years. Stevens' mother and husband also are cancer survivors. "I'm more likely to go into more places without breathing heavy smoke. ... Why do we have to be punished? We love New Orleans entertainment as much as anyone else."
In a Nov. 12 statement, Chris Young of the French Quarter Business League (FQBL) said the measure "will have a devastating impact on badly needed tax revenues that provide police and fire protection, maintain the streets, pays government employees and keeps the city moving ahead." He added that the ordinance "cuts against New Orleans' strong tradition of tolerance and diverse lifestyles."
The FQBL is part of the Freedom to Choose Coalition, which includes the Louisiana Restaurant Association, Louisiana Amusement and Music Operators Association, Louisiana Video Gaming Association, Louisiana Association of Wholesalers and Harrah’s Casino.
Last month, the Louisiana State Police projected a $100 million loss in gaming revenues and fees over two years if the ordinance goes into effect, though the SmokeFree New Orleans Coalition disputed its claims and conflicting interests of their sources.