New Orleans Passes Smoking Ban (Update)

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New Orleans has a smoking ban.

This morning, the New Orleans City Council took up the hotly contested issue of whether or not to ban smoking in the majority of enclosed areas in the Big Easy, including bars, restaurants and casinos. After a flurry of amendments, discussion and public comments, the council unanimously passed the ban 7-0.

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There are exemptions for cigar bars for retail tobacco stores and a limited amount of hotel rooms, as well as a narrow definition of private events, but the days of New Orleans having a laissez-faire attitude toward smoking are over.

The ban comes just a few months ahead of the cigar industry convening on New Orleans for the 83rd annual IPCPR Convention & Trade Show in July. How this new ban will affect that event and the related dinners, parties and other events remains to be seen; while there appear to be provisions to allow smoking for tobacco and vaping business conventions, the effect of the ban will be felt once the convention lights are turned off and attendees head to restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other venues.

Before the vote, a flurry of amendments were proposed, so many that there were calls to have the carved up proposal left for review before a vote was taken.

An amendment regarding the penalty provision of the ordinance that was described as “hamstringing judges” to issue certain penalties originally passed but was brought up for a reconsideration later in the meeting, with the discussion leading to a reversal of the original vote and freeing up judges to have flexibility in issuing punishments when it comes to monetary fines or community service in place of the fine.

An amendment to remove the New Orleans Police Department from the list of departments responsible for enforcement was proposed by Councilman Jason Williams for a two-fold purpose: first to take one thing off the list of the already over-stretched police force, and second, to reduce the risk of the police using the smoking ban as a reason to target certain populations that could lead to discriminatory policing, racial profiling and an increase in petty offenses. Williams’ amendment passed unanimously by a vote of 7-0.

Another motion to amend the bill to delete the minimum distance from entrances to buildings passed by a 4-3 vote, with Councilman Gray characterizing the amendment as a way to prevent people from being stopped for smoking while walking down the sidewalk.

An amendment to remove the grandfather clause for existing cigar bars did not pass, with the council voting 4-3 against it.

In the public comment portion of the meeting, both proponents and opponents used the 15 minutes allotted for each side. Opponents cited the economic impact of implementing the ban, while there was also a significant opposition from electronic cigarette manufacturers to have their products included in the ban. While there was comment on that, the council did not address or remove those products from the ban. Proponents of the ban cited the health impact and that it would attract more business to the city, negating the opponents’ claims that it would cost the city money.

The full list of amendments and the resulting smoking ban has yet to be published. The ban is slated to go into effect in 90 days.

The IPCPR sent out an e-mail to its members shortly after the vote was held; it reads:

Today the New Orleans City Council voted on the proposed smoking ban ordinance, introduced by Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell. This legislation passed unanimously with favorable amendments. As amended, the legislation will not impact the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailer Association’s (IPCPR) local members or our 83rd Annual Convention & International Trade Show. The ability to smoke in cigar bars, the convention center, and in facilities being used for private events is protected by the amendments.

Your representatives from IPCPR and the Cigar Association of America have been working diligently with the New Orleans City Council on behalf of retailers and manufacturers. Thank you to all IPCPR members who contacted the City Council to voice your concerns regarding the original legislation. With your help, we generated nearly 700 emails to the Councilmembers. Your active participation was critical to our success.

The Cigar Association of America echoed IPCPR’s sentiments in an email Thursday afternoon, saying that “thanks to cooperation between the Cigar Association of America (CAA) and the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Tobacco Association (IPCPR), key amendments were added to protect the cigar industry.” They added that “CAA and IPCPR, working with their members, educated the City Council on the harmful effects of a wide-reaching smoking ban. These favorable amendments will help protect both the cigar industry and its consumers in New Orleans.”

J. Glynn Loope, Executive Director of Cigar Rights of America, was less than enthused by the council’s decision, telling halfwheel that “CRA is very disappointed in the action taken this morning; we have been writing and warning of this since last August, and we we launched a petition to city council on Nov. 14,” a petition Loope said garnered 2,418 signatures.

He added that CRA was part of the Freedom to Choose Coalition, which included local restaurants, casinos, businesses in the French Quarter and about 10 other groups promoting a free market approach to this issue.

“Every job lost lies at the foot of Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell,” Loope said, referencing the councilwoman who was the primary sponsor of the smoking ban.

Loope described the the proposal as being “ramrodded through council, even to the chagrin of the mayor’s office.” He said there was not ample opportunity to digest the economic impact data that was provided to the council, especially as to how smoking bans equate to lost revenue in the gaming and spirits industries. He described the vote being taken before those studies were properly analyzed as being “highly irresponsible.”

He noted that he was a conference call with the mayor’s office on Thursday morning, and they were hoping to delay a vote until at least February so that the economic impact could be studied and that the mayor’s staff could get a proper handle on how much revenue might be lost.

Loope was also not pleased by the fact that the city chose to intervene in the free market approach to the matter, noting that over 100 bars in New Orleans have gone smoke-free on their own accord. “The free market was working just fine in the city of New Orleans,” he said.

Loope said that cigar consumers should not be content with the exemptions provided in the ban, but rather that they should be clamoring for a free market approach to private property decisions like smoking regulations. While he’s glad there are exemptions, he called on cigar smokers to be advocating for changes to the ordinance “the second that adverse economic consequences come to the city of New Orleans.”

He also issued a warning that a similar ban could now be coming to Baton Rouge, whose city leaders have said that they will be watching the outcome of the New Orleans decision. Loope forecasted that “it’s going to be a domino effect in Louisiana.”

New Orleans is the largest city in Louisiana, with a 2013 population estimate of 378,715 residents.

Update (Jan. 22, 2015, 2:59pm ET) — The IPCPR has issued a brief statement in response to the New Orleans smoking ban vote; it has been added to the article.

Update (Jan. 22, 2015, 5:43pm ET) — Comments from the Cigar Association of America and Cigar Rights of America have been added.

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Patrick Lagreid
About the author

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for MLB.com, plus I'm a voice over artist. I previously covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.

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