Standing-room-only crowd takes part in 'smoke free' ordinance meeting

Standing-room-only crowd takes part in 'smoke free' ordinance meeting

People spilled out of the doors of the City Council chambers Wednesday as a public hearing on a proposed "smoke-free" ordinance for bars, and casinos was discussed.

A number of musicians spoke in favor of the measure, saying their health is put on the line every time they perform in smoky venues.

"I play trombone, it takes a lot of air to blow an instrument like that," said Craig Klein.

He told council members and the dozens seated or standing in the audience that his body feels the impact of the smoke he is forced to breathe in while performing.

"I can feel the effects right now, my lungs. I feel it," Klein continued.

Some other musicians echoed that.

"We need the same type of healthy environment that every other professional needs to be to do their job, to be able to do it well," said Irvin Mayfield.

Musician Deacon John got emotional about the issue.

"Personally, I am sick and tired of witnessing our beloved musicians and artists suffering and dying from the detrimental effects of second-hand smoke, I've sang at their funerals," he said as he choked back tears.

But the ordinance being pushed by Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell is not universally supported by musicians or the general public. And there is push-back from other quarters because the ordinance would also ban the use of E-cigarettes.

"There is so much potential on this technology. I use e-cigarettes," said a female musician. "I actually quit with a tobacco vaporizer."

"I believe y'all are being misled about electronic cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes being equivalent," said Benjamin Varadi, who opposes the ordinance.

Representatives of gaming industry trade groups also voiced strong opposition.

"From a strictly revenue perspective, we project over the next two years a 20.4 percent drop in gaming revenue in the city of New Orleans," said Matt Wellman, of the Louisiana Amusement and Music Operators Association.

After lengthy public comment, the council voted narrowly to approve a slew of amendments to the original proposal, including one that scales back the distance smokers must be from entrances from 25 feet to just five feet.

"Except for public buildings such as City Hall, such as our public libraries," Cantrell added.

And she said she plans to make another amendment to cut Bourbon Street more slack in terms of the proposed regulation on smoking.

"Bourbon Street, we're looking to exempt Bourbon Street from the length, the footage that you would have to be from the main entrance of an establishment," said Cantrell.

Still, some on the council have concerns about the possible financial impact on the city if many smokers start to stay away from casinos and bars.

"A lot of the businesses in our group have already seen a 20 to 30 percent drop in revenue as a result of the increase in crime in the French Quarter. We feel that this extra burden of loss revenue at this time would be a little bit too much to take," said Alex Fein, President of the French Quarter Business League.

The ordinance will appear on Thursday's council agenda, but Cantrell said it will be deferred to give other council members more time to weigh its merit and the public more time for input.

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