Smoking ban approved in NOLA

Smoking ban approved in NOLA

Smoking inside bars, casinos, and hotel rooms will not be allowed much longer in the city.

Thursday after an emotion-filled City Council meeting, council members voted 7 to 0 in favor of a sweeping ban on smoking, but the vote did not come until after feisty discussion.

"We have a situation in the Quarter where people are getting robbed, raped and murdered and you're discussing this crapola about 25 feet from this and 5 feet from that. What the hell are you people drinking?" said Elizabeth Stella, a resident who addressed the council.

However, many local musicians and singers have voiced support for the measure. They said working for hours in smoke-filled environments is taking a toll.

"I ask you just to provide a safe work environment," said entertainer Paul Sanchez.

Mervin Lewis walked slowly to the microphone. He said he now has lung cancer after working at Harrah's Casino for 15 years.

"[They] diagnosed me with cancer of the lungs, found out that I had one-third of my lungs, cancer had to come out," Lewis said.

A representative of the federal Centers for Disease Control also addressed the council before the vote.

"Second-hand smoke from burning tobacco product is deadly, and the surgeon has concluded that there is no risk-free level of exposure," said Dr. Brian King.

Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell, who represents Council District B, led the fight for passage of the ordinance. Susan Guidry became a co-sponsor.

"We can no longer talk about initiatives for our city without walking it as well," Cantrell said to loud applause. "So when we talk about NOLA for Life, this is NOLA for Life. Public health is the most important thing."

But there was a lot of push-back from the business community and others who said the city's revenues will suffer as customers and tourists shun businesses where they are not allowed to light up a cigarette.

"There's a potential impact to the city in the $8 to $18 million range. This is a real impact. This ban will have a negative impact on our ability to drive tourists to this city," said Logan Gaskill of Harrah's.

"Already asking the businesses on Bourbon Street to put up money from their own pockets to hire security to keep the French Quarter safe, any more revenue hit on top of that is going to make it difficult for us to do that," said Alex Fein, who represented some Bourbon Street businesses.

But others balked.

"Bull. That dog will not hunt. It's been proven in other cities that people still go to their bars where there's no smoking, people still go to their casinos," said Alvin Guilliot.

Just before the vote, Councilman James Gray became teary-eyed and his voice cracked with emotion as he spoke of people who were close to him who died of lung cancer.

"I never thought I would do that, but I think it's good that we're getting to vote on this today," Gray said.

The council amended the ordinance before taking a vote so that the manpower-stretched NOPD will not be in charge of enforcement. That responsibility will fall to the city's Health Department.

The new law will take effect in 90 days.

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