geoffrey gauchet

Senate Committee Approves Bill to Ban Smoking in Louisiana Bars and Casinos

A senate committee here in Louisiana approved today a bill to ban smoking in bars and casinos. Currently, it is illegal to smoke in any buildings that serve the general public, excepting bars and casinos. This is obviously a controversial issue. On one hand you have non-smokers (and some smokers) who want the ban so they can visit bars or casinos and come home and not smell like smoke (and be healthier). On the other hand, you have smokers who want the freedom and convenience of smoking in a bar or casino. And on a weirdly located third hand, you have smokers and non-smokers alike that are against the ban because of the implications of having further government involvement in the personal lives of its citizens. Before I dive into this any further, I have to make a few disclaimers.

  1. I started smoking when I was 15. I had my last cigarette on July 11, 2009, so I am a recent non-smoker.
  2. I msotly consider myself to be a libertarian, a political belief system that is generally against government involvement in the personal decisions one makes for one's self.
  3. I work for a local non-profit that is a big proponent of smoking bans and general health consciousness.
  4. Any comments or opinions posted on frobba.com are not the views of my employer and they should not be taken that way. Everything I write is wholly my own opinion.
Having said all of that, I am for this ban. Being for the ban does go against many of my political ideologies. Generally, I feel that whatever you want to do is fine as long as it doesn't hurt or bother anyone else, which is why I'm for the legalization of most drugs, even though I personally don't use them. However, smoking does bother and harm people other than the smoker. If you go to a bar and sit down next to someone drinking a beer and you just want to drink a coke, you can drink your coke and the other person can drink their beer and you don't go home with liver problems or clothes smelling like beer. Now, if you go to a bar and sit next to a person smoking and you aren't, you still go home smelling like smoke and have lung problems. And yes, non-drinkers do go to bars. Four of my friends don't drink or smoke and they come out with us to bars quite often. A lot of the comments on the NOLA.com article I link to above argue against the ban saying that this is the start of government control and that next they'll outlaw drinking or eating fatty foods. This logic is severely flawed. The reason here is that the smoking bans are not in any way created to save the smokers. They are created to save the non-smokers. It is scientifically proven that second-hand smoke can cause many of the same effects, diseases, and illnesses that direct smoking can cause. Smoking in a bar or casino does harm other people. Now, some argue "well, if you don't want to be around smoke, don't go to bars or casinos." The problem with that logic is that it infringes on non-smokers' rights to visit these businesses. Why should someone who doesn't want to be around smoke not be able to go to Parlay's or Mick's or the Bulldog just because there are smokers there? Sure, there are already a number of smoke-free venues in the state that have decided to go smoke-free on their own accord, but why should non-smokers be forced to a limited list of venues? By banning smoking, you are actually creating a compromise. If you don't want to be around smoke, you're allowed to be in the bar without smoke. If you want to have a cigarette, you are free to do so outside the bar where many places have outdoor seating or patios and in New Orleans at least you can bring your drink outside with you. Your right to smoke ends where it infringes on others' right to breathe fresh air. It's simple. Another angle of argument some have been using is saying that'll it result in lost revenue for bars and casinos. This is a terrible argument to make since being related to numbers, it can be disproved. According to this study, bans across the country did not harm revenue for businesses and in many cases, sales actuallyincreasedafter the ban. I did find, however, one article about casinos in Illinois that claims that casino's lost some revenue after the ban due to the high percentage of gamblers that are smokers. However, the 2008 article does go on to say that it is unclear whether the decline in revenue is due to the recession or to the smoking ban. The only facts I could find that were found before the recession state that businesses did not lose any revenue after smoking bans and many increased revenue. The fact is, drinkers and gamblers are going to drink and gamble whether they can smoke or not. Smokers will still walk into bars and order drinks, duck out for a smoke every so often, and then buy more drinks. The difference is that you'll probably have more non-smokers coming into the bars as well. Some other NOLA.com commenters argued that this would hurt tourism and said that bans didn't hurt other cities because people come to New Orleans for bars and go to other cities for other reasons. While that last bit is half true, people come to New Orleans for far more than just bars. Conventions, Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, historical landmarks, music, food—the list continues. Secondly, the people that do come here to party do it on Bourbon St. If you've ever been to Bourbon St. at night, you'll know that there are more people walking up and down the street outside than there are people in the bars. That's because people go to one bar for a little while and then barhop to another bar or club and continue that. Rarely does anyone stay in one bar the whole night on Bourbon. Because of this, people will grab their drinks, and go outside like they already do and they'll smoke while they walk to the next bar. As far as tourism goes, it's a moot point. The main point of all this is: smoking is becoming less and less "cool" with younger generations. While the values are slim, the average age that kids start smoking is rising which means that younger kids aren't starting. I also know from anecdotal evidence that many people in my demographic (25-34) are quitting more than usual. This means that most of the people who smoke are older generations that are still smoking from a time when it wasn't a big deal. People were upset when we banned smoking in restaurants in 2007, but now, no one really complains at all. In fact, most people love not having smoke around their food. I can't find the article, but there was an article where the owner of Tipitina's (New Orleans music venue that voluntarily went smoke-free last year) said that not only have his customers thanked him for banning smoking, but he's seen an increase in revenue since then. I've also heard, anecdotally again, that local bars and music venues that have been hosting smoke-free nights (single monthly smoke-free music events) have seen an increase in attendance. (I seem to remember this being a video report on either WWL or WDSU) My overall point is, the ban seems silly to some right now, but in about 2 years, you won't even think twice about it. I honestly find it hard to believe that it's barely been 3 years since we banned smoking in restaurants. It sorta feels like it's been that way for a long time. It's not going to hurt revenue, it's not going to hurt tourism, and best of all, it's not hurting any people. Let's just pass this as law and move on so we can focus on other issues in this state, like corruption and education and crime.

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