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Mon July 28, 2014

Will All New Orleans Bars Soon Be Smoke-Free?

Carrollton Station owner Mike Miller, speaking about how his bar went non-smoking at Smoke-Free Week's town hall meeting.
Credit Malorie Marshall / WWNO

Smoking in bars might become a thing of the past in New Orleans. City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell and other organizations recently brought a smoke-free week to the city. That’s meant to raise support for a ban on smoking in bars.

New Orleans is known as a place where people like to unwind. Go-cups, ice-cold daiquiris, rich food, music and good times.

One aspect of this experience might be about to change.

Elizabeth Stella attended a recent town hall meeting at Carrollton Station. The topic: smoking in New Orleans’ bars, something Stella is very vocal about. "I’ll tell you what," Stella said during the meeting. "I’m sick and tired of being treated like a dog by this society because I happen to be a smoker. I have rights too, I pay taxes. Sometimes I think I’m living in the Soviet Union. When I was a kid this wasn’t even a damn issue."

Smoke-free week was a campaign sponsored by Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell and the group Healthier Air for All. Cantrell hopes to introduce legislation in November that would ban smoking from local bars. A number of groups showed up to support the ban. Elizabeth Stella was the lone citizen and, apparently, the only smoker.

So far, 27 states have enacted statewide bans on smoking in workplaces, restaurants and bars. None are in the deep South. In 2007, Louisiana implemented the Smoke Free Air Act. That banned smoking in workplaces and restaurants. Bars, bars that serve food, casinos and a few others were exempt. Now there’s a push to include them.

"So we’re really looking at this holistically," Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell said. "This is not an attack, this is about healthier environments for all people. Those who work in these environments, musicians, employees. But the majority of the people now within our city and even state, close to 80 percent are non-smokers."

Cantrell says it’s about everyone having the chance to be healthy. People who work in bars and other places that allow smoking consume 300 to 600 percent more second-hand smoke according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

Over 100 New Orleans bars have already gone smoke-free. Carrollton Station is one of them. Owner Mike Miller says the health of his business had to be weighed in that decision.

"That had to be the hardest ever," Miller said.  "I mean it’s like we’ve got eight customers; five of them chain smoke, and uh, they’re all going to leave. And four of them did. It’s like, if you already have a good business, why on earth would you do that? You know, it’s hard."

Banning smoking will send bar-goers outside. Neighbors might have a problem with that. But pushing smokers outdoors may drive more patrons inside.

Some customers at Pal’s, a Mid-City bar that allows smoking, say a smoking ban might help business.

"Before they could bring their dogs in, [it was a] dog-friendly bar," doorman Eddie Keith said. "[They] can’t bring the dogs back, so they still come. So, people adjust all the time."

A patron named Michelle said, "I try to avoid bars that have smoke in them because I take a shower and then I’m like, 'I don’t want to go there because I’m gonna smell like smoke.'”

"I think long term most bars that go smoke-free are going to recognize that they’re probably going to make more money, because more people are going to spend more time there," said Graham Gibby.

Text messages from WWNO's Listening Post project showed people around the city are mostly in support of a smoking ban. Here are a few responses:

“Yes, I would go to some bars more often if they weren’t so much smoke!”

“YES! I definitely consider whether or not the bar allows smoking before I decide if I’m going to go for a drink or listen to music or something. I have lived in a number of cities that have instituted smoking bans, and after the initial grumbling, everything kind of went back to normal.”

And:

“I do consider smoking and much prefer smoke-free bars. However, I appreciate the freedom of bars to decide in New Orleans.”

Cantrell’s camp says they don’t have any legislation written yet. But, the end result will be an ordinance that comes for a vote before the City Council.

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