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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Will French Quarter cigar bars extinguish the smoking ban?

Posted By on Thu, Feb 26, 2015 at 1:35 PM

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In April, New Orleans bars and casinos will go smoke-free. But that could change in parts of the French Quarter. The New Orleans City Council agreed Feb. 26 to ask the City Planning Commission (CPC) to consider allowing cigar bars in the Vieux Carre.

In December, New Orleans District C councilwoman Nadine Ramsey was able to get the City Council, at the 11th hour, to agree to request — following a failed attempt — that the City Planning Commission consider an amendment to zoning rules to make cigar bars a conditional use in parts of the French Quarter, where they currently are prohibited. That change, however, targets only one business: La Habana Hemingway on Toulouse Street. That bar is permitted to sell alcohol through its designation as a restaurant — but restaurants can't allow smoking.

Ramsey wanted to create a new designation, "tobacco retail business,"  where “the sales of tobacco products and accessories (for on-premises consumption)” accounts for 70 percent of its revenue, and where “alcoholic beverages and/or food products are sold or served for consumption on premises."

The City Council recently approved a smoke-free ordinance that will ban smoking in all bars and casinos beginning in April. Ramsey's measure, then, could allow bars to switch to a "cigar bar," where both smoking and drinking would be allowed.

District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry slammed Ramsey and the motion for what she said makes an exception for an illegal business and seemingly flies in the face of the smoke-free ordinance (for which Ramsey voted).

"I don’t really know where to start with this," Guidry said, later adding that the business received a restaurant permit then "hung out a cigar bar sign" and has since been cited more than 10 times by the CPC, the Department of Safety and Permits and state agencies. If the bar isn't properly licensed by March 6, she said, the state will close it.

"If the council passes this motion, what we’re doing is making an exception to existing law," Guidry said. "It's just another runaround to help this one, illegally operating business."

Ramsey said she didn't introduce the measure as an "attempt to go around the law or circumvent or mislead my colleagues anyway."

Many people in City Council chambers supported Ramsey's measure — or more specifically, the bar, which could risk closing in the wake of the smoke-free ordinance — including state Sen. Ed Murray (who also appears in promotional material for the bar).

At-large councilwoman Stacy Head called the situation "a procedural mess" but agreed to move the measure forward. Guidry was the lone nay vote.

The CPC will discuss the measure at an upcoming public meeting.

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