While New Orleans' "Smoke-Free Week" begins this week (July 21-25), New Orleans City Council District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell is preparing to introduce legislation in the fall to prohibit smoking in bars and public buildings citywide.
The measure will follow statewide legislation to make all public colleges and universities smoke-free. Senate Bill 36, signed into law in 2013, becomes effective Aug. 1. In New Orleans. The University of New Orleans also is extending the ban to include all tobacco products (except electronic cigarettes). Private universities also are getting behind the ban. Tulane University will enforce a smoke-free campus next month, and Loyola University has formed a committee of students, faculty and staff to rewrite its smoking policy; the university will be tobacco- and smoke-free by fall 2015.
While statewide legislative attempts to ban smoking in bars and casinos have failed, several cities and parishes have adopted their own legislation to prohibit smoking in barrooms. Alexandria, Monroe, West Monroe and all of Ouachita Parish have banned smoking in bars. Cantrell says she plans to introduce similar legislation in November.
"We're seeing trends throughout the city that are driven by bar owners themselves," she said. "Bars across the city are recognizing the trend (and) the immediate need for New Orleans to be a healthier city. ... They are showing other bar owners that this can be done, to no negative impact to the business, and they're not losing patrons but gaining them." For Smoke-Free Week, Cantrell has coordinated with the statewide Healthier Air for All Campaign under the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living (TFL).
More than 100 bars in New Orleans are smoke-free, according to Healthier Air for All, and the number is growing. Mid-City Yacht Club went smoke-free in recent months, and the Maple Leaf Bar — which has hosted weekly smoke-free nights on Wednesdays and at special events — will follow suit this fall.
Smoke-Free Week — which will raise awareness of the health effects of smoking and secondhand smoke — begins with a kickoff party with the 610 Stompers at The Rusty Nail (1100 Constance St.) from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, July 21, and there will be a town hall-style discussion about smoke-free laws at Carrollton Station (8140 Willow St.) from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, July 23. The week culminates with a party at the Maple Leaf (8316 Oak St.) at 8 p.m. Friday, July 25.
"Smoke-Free Week is the beginning of the movement to make New Orleans healthier," Cantrell said. "Every bar owner I've talked to that's not smoke-free has said, 'You know what, we're for it.' From Rock Bottom Lounge on Tchoupitoulas [Street] to Silkie's on Milan, I've been in the barrooms. ... We're not trying to hit them off guard but share with them what the focus is."
The Louisiana Smoke-Free Air Act became effective Jan. 1, 2007 and prohibits smoking in most public spaces and workspaces, including restaurants, but excluding bars and casinos. According to TFL Associate Director Tonia Moore, Cantrell's legislation will follow a model ordinance from Americans for Non-Smokers Rights, which has helped draft similar legislation across the country.
Cantrell says she anticipates City Council support. District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry has expressed general support for nonsmoking laws, and Cantrell says she is prepared to stand up against the tobacco industry and other opponents of smoke-free measures. "I'm ready for it," she said. "It's the right thing to do."
Requests for comment from Harrah's New Orleans, where smoking is allowed, were not returned as of press time.