With a 15-22 vote, the Louisiana Senate last week shot down a bill that would have banned smoking in Louisiana bars. The vote came after the Senate Health & Welfare Committee approved Senate Bill 133 by state Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Livonia.
Marionneaux's bill was lobbied hard on both sides. The Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco Free Living (TFL) mounted an aggressive ad campaign in support of the measure, while casinos joined with bars to fight it.
Casinos were initially exempt from the bill's provisions, but an amendment was added to prevent the state Department of Health and Hospitals from renewing or issuing health permits to "any facility operated by or on the lands of a sovereign Indian nation" unless compliant with the law. That put some casinos back in the mix, effectively destroying any chance of the bill succeeding.
A similar situation occurred in 2009, when lawmakers were poised to ban smoking in bars. That effort failed after a late addition of casinos, previously exempt from the potential ban. Marionneaux authored last year's bill as well.
TFL's "Let's Be Totally Clear" campaign, via billboard, print and TV ads, pushed for smoke-free workplaces, citing health concerns for patrons and employees. Earlier this year the group published results from air quality tests in Lafayette barrooms taken during December 2010 and January 2011. The tests, performed by TFL and Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center's School of Public Health, rated 17 of 22 smoke-filled barrooms as "unhealthy," "very unhealthy" or "hazardous," measurements defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Those readings present "serious risk of respiratory effects in the general population, and significant aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in people with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly," according to the report.
Local bars like Dos Jefes Uptown Cigar Bar, which thrives on its smoke factor, oppose a smoking ban. Bar owner Robert LeBlanc, on the other hand, voluntarily made his bars Capdeville, LePhare, Loa and Republic smoke-free. Music venues like Tipitina's and d.b.a. also have made the switch.
Carrie Broussard, TFL's policy and advocacy manager, said the campaigns will continue. "Certainly we would love to see the day all employees and workplaces are protected from second-hand smoke," she said. " ... we would love to see that stuff happen, but it's really separate from what our job is — to build awareness about health issues and to ensure those who are unprotected have a voice." — Alex Woodward