By Stephanie Riegel. Repost from BusinessReport.com.
On Feb. 9, Lydia Kuykendal of Smoke-free East Baton Rouge spoke to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge, where she made her organization’s case for ridding city-parish bars and casinos of smoke. Less than two hours later, her group held a press conference at the Main Library on Goodwood to announce some high-profile support for its effort, most notably that of AARP.
The campaign is officially on to rid Baton Rouge bars and casinos of smoke, and organizers are launching a full-court press. Though the Louisiana Legislature banned smoking in all public buildings and restaurants several years ago, bars and gambling facilities were exempt. Now, a coalition of health groups has formed Smoke-free East Baton Rouge to extend the ban to all establishments in the parish.
“The exemption makes for bad public policy,” says Kuykendal, a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society Action Network.
Movement organizers have momentum on their side. They’re fresh off a victory in New Orleans, which extended its no-smoking ban to bars and casinos last summer. Several other cities around the state have also gone smoke free, following the lead of major markets like New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Polling data provided by Smoke-free EBR suggests support exists for the ban across all racial and demographic groups in the parish, though those from low-income households and Tea Party supporters are less enthusiastic in their support than other groups. Still, some 70% of parish residents support the ban, a hair more than the 69% that did last year.
Perhaps surprisingly, many of those who would be most affected by the initiative support it. One of the most vocal advocates of the effort is Phil Brady’s owner Joe Hall. He already prohibits smoking in his popular Government Street blues joint after 8 p.m. on Fridays, and he says business, if anything, has increased.
Metro Councilman John Delgado, also a bar owner, agrees there’s no economic argument to be made for allowing smoking in bars. Quite the contrary, he says. Three of his four establishments prohibit smoking, and it hasn’t hurt business.
Not all council members will support the initiative, though, regardless of opinion polls. Fiercely libertarian Councilman Ryan Heck opposes the effort—not because he’s pro-smoking, but because he’s against telling businesses how to run their establishments. Several of his conservative-minded colleagues are also on the fence for much the same reason.
But the biggest opposition will likely come from the parish’s riverboat casinos. In New Orleans, casinos vehemently opposed that city’s proposed ban last summer. Now that it’s law, Harrah’s is blaming it on a sharp decline in year-over-year revenues.
Casino representatives in Baton Rouge decline to comment at this time. L’Auberge Vice President and General Manager Mickey Parenton says, “We won’t speculate about the issue.”
Parenton says the casino will have something to say if and when a smoke-free ordinance is introduced to the council. Smoke-free EBR organizers hope that could be just weeks away. In the meantime, the debate will heat up as the outreach efforts intensify.