Next month, the New Orleans City Council will begin to dissect a new ordinance that could drastically limit where smoking is allowed in many parts of town. As written, District B City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell's ordinance bans the use of any tobacco products within 25 feet of businesses — including bars and other smoke-friendly establishments.
Opponents of the ordinance say it could create a logistical nightmare, particularly in the business-dense French Quarter. District C City Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey — whose district includes the Vieux Carre — already is moving to exempt some Quarter businesses from Cantrell's measure, with mixed success.
Two weeks ago, the City Planning Commission denied Ramsey's motion to request that the city's Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO) create a new definition of a "tobacco retail business" in the Vieux Carre. It makes the distinction between, say, a bar or a convenience store selling cigars (which is defined as a retail business) and the French Quarter's cigar bars. Currently, the CZO lumps smoking lounges in the same category as cocktail lounges. Ramsey's motion also recommended making tobacco retail businesses allowable as a conditional use in the VCC-2 district — where cocktail lounges are prohibited.
Although the City Planning Commission denied Ramsey's motion, it did support reclassification in theory. (The Department of Finance currently doesn't make the distinction between a smoking lounge and a cocktail lounge.) On Dec. 11, Ramsey made a last-minute request to overrule the Planning Commission's recommendation in order to avoid a motion-killing deadline. The City Council voted 5-0 to approve the motion, though not without some hesitation.
"Given the ordinance to end smoking in bars and casinos, this kind of flies in the face of that," said District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry. Guidry — who is co-sponsoring Cantrell's measure — added that she was "not comfortable with the lack of time to review this."
"My staff has talked to Councilmember Cantrell," Ramsey said, adding that the council will hold public hearings and "work with her to ensure the language will correspond" with Cantrell's proposed smoking ban.
Guidry said Ramsey's motion still wouldn't address the health of workers "who are nonsmokers and subject to smoke," one of the primary reasons Cantrell introduced the anti-smoking measure.
The council's Community Development Committee is expected to discuss Cantrell's proposed ordinance on Jan. 7.