Members of the New Orleans City Council on Thursday unanimously passed a ban on smoking in nearly all public places, effectively making it quite difficult to enjoy a cigarette in the Big Easy.
The bill was originally sponsored by Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, requiring a ban on smoking in bars, casinos and most importantly, “all public spaces.”
Violating the ban would carry a $100 fine for a first offense, up to $200 for a second offense and up to $500 for a third offense within the same 12-month period, according to the Advocate.
However, the bill’s language does not require the New Orleans Police Department to actively enforce the law, instead leaving that responsibility to the local health, parks, recreation, code enforcement and permitting departments, according to the Times-Picayune.
"We're moving forward as a city," Cantrell said when announcing the legislation last November. This legislation “is not about attacking someone who wishes to smoke. This is about protecting our workforce, protecting our residents, who wish to live in smoke-free environments, and to make sure the disparities that exist in our city are eliminated."
Even with its broad reach, the bill had widespread support. Along with winning unanimous approval from the council, the legislation was also endorsed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Although they voted for the bill, council members Jared Brossett and Nadine Ramsey said more data should be gathered on the potential economic impact of enforcing the ban.
Restaurant and bar owners in the French Quarter and casino owners have said the ban will have a negative economic impact on their businesses.
Although Harrah’s casino made a spirited attempt to be excluded from the ban, the legislation will affect virtually every location in New Orleans outside of private residences. Areas cited in the legislation include public parks, any business with two or more employees, all public buildings, universities and all other public schools, according to the Times-Picayune.
However, there are some notable exceptions to the new legislation, including Bourbon Street, private homes, parking lots, tobacco retailers and hookah bars. E-vape stores will no longer be able to allow their customers or employees to smoke inside.
But will the ban have a measurable effect on smoking cessation? Cigarette taxes have been proven to affect the buying and using habits of smokers but worldwide smoking numbers have actually increased by 13 percent in recent years, with analysts pointing to a boon in the illegal cigarette trade stemming from countries like Russia.
Officials in Bhutan recently made cigarettes outright illegal in the Himalayan kingdom, but an estimated 3.3 percent of the nation’s citizens continue to smoke anyway, according to OZY.com.
With passage of its anti-smoking law on Thursday, New Orleans joins nearly every major U.S. city in setting tough restrictions on smoking inside bars, restaurants or clubs. However, the city’s legislation actually pushes it to the forefront of new smoking laws in a way that could potentially become a model for other cities, states and municipalities.