As 'Smoke-Free Week' begins, N.O. Councilmember eyes citywide ordinance

In smoky barrooms across New Orleans, people who make a living working inside the venues face serious health consequences.

That's the message from the organizers of "Smoke-Free Week," an event to raise awareness about the dangers of secondhand smoke.

"One of the things that we want to really focus on is bringing light to the workers that are still unprotected," said Tonia Moore, associate director with the LA Campaign For Tobacco-Free Living.

Aimee Smallwood, who heads up the LA Cultural Economy Foundation, says entertainers make up a important percentage of that same group.

"There are a lot of musicians who perform in smoky clubs and singers who perform in smoky bars, and they need to work, and they need to work in a healthy environment," Smallwood said.

According to Smoke-Free Week organizers, more than 100 bars across New Orleans have already gone smoke-free, voluntarily. Now, they're calling on more venues to implement bans of their own.

Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell is partnering with the groups for this week's event, while also working on introducing a possible mandate.

"We will see future initiatives that will come about, including potential legislation towards the fall, to where we put it before the entire city council for their support and their vote," Cantrell said.

Monday, a city spokesman said Mayor Mitch Landrieu will support such an anti-smoking measure.

Some bar owners have raised concerns amid past efforts to implement an all out ban, over fears it could negatively impact their bottom line.

That hasn't been the case at the Rusty Nail in the Warehouse District, where Smoke-Free Week kicked off Monday evening. The Rusty Nail's owners said their decision four years ago to voluntarily ban smoking inside their establishment has paid off.

"It's been overwhelmingly positive," said co-owner David Brown. "The customers we already had were really happy not to go home smelling like smoke, and we got so many new customers out of it. So, for us it was just a no-brainer."

Throughout Smoke-Free Week, organizers are celebrating the 100-plus venues that have made the same decision.

"I kind of think of them as pioneers in a way. They know what's going on around the country. Louisiana is a little bit behind that curve," Smallwood said. "So, I think we should applaud their efforts because they're doing what they can to make a healthy environment for their patrons and their performers."

Moore agreed.

"It's not about people who smoke. It's really about non-smokers, who are also in these environments, who are being exposed to double the amount of regular smokers. So, we want people to understand -- these are hazardous environments," she said.

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