NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - French Quarter bar owners met recently to vent their frustrations over New Orleans' smoking ban and how business is declining.
"They just all line up outside the bars, and it's not a good thing," bar owner Earl Bernhardt said. "I'm going to estimate somewhere between 15 and 20 percent (decline) because once they leave the bar, they don't come back."
Bourbon Street is a lot more crowded these days as the smoking ordinance has pushed people outside to light up cigarettes.
"The problem is the people who smoke are sitting in our bar, they have a drink, and instead of having four or five more, they go outside to smoke with their drink and they walk on down the street," Bernhardt said. "We lose them. So it's costing us a lot of business."
"I do drink and walk around more when I go outside to smoke," smoker Alex Kennedy said as he stood outside a Bourbon St. bar. "I see other places that are booming, popping or whatever you want to call it and I go there."
Bernhardt and other French Quarter business owners as well as Harrah's Casino are suing the city over the ban.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office issued a statement Thursday saying, "The smoke-free ordinance is an important public health measure that will save lives and improve health outcomes. We have been incredibly pleased by the outpouring of support we've received for the ordinance, and we are grateful to both residents and employers for their help and cooperation in its implementation."
But Bernhardt believes the ban will cost his employees their jobs.
"I could foresee cutting out one or two bands a day out, laying off some bartenders and doormen. It's definitely going to have an impact," he said.
Many others do enjoy the smoke-free bars. One tourist said smokers should embrace the ban and start enjoying more of the city.
"New Orleans and Key West is very well known for you to drink outside because other places in the United States you can't," Marcia Shultz said. "But here it's easy."
Bourbon St. workers say it's not easy and sometimes dangerous.
"The only reason I had customers today is because I put a couple of chairs outside and actually cocktailed to them," bartender Dawn Kesslnering said. "At the same time, I had to deal with hustlers and I had to deal with violence. In fact, I started to telling people that these chairs are a part of my bar to stop people from trying to hustle them or hurt them. It's not a fun environment."