Before the New Orleans City Council votes on an ordinance that could ban smoking in bars and casinos citywide, the measure's authors held a "town hall"-style meeting to hear one last round of public comment. The City Council will likely hear from several speakers at the City Council meeting on Thursday, Jan. 22, but tonight's hearing made room for more than two hours of comments from all sides of the issue.There were commenters there from all over Louisiana, some from as far away as Monroe, to tell us about how well similar smoking bans have succeeded where they are from. A lady from Alexandria said that, after a smoking ordinance passed, "bingo halls" continue to flourish there. More than one speaker talked about "bingo halls" for some reason. I didn't realize they had such an active lobby.
That's nothing compared to the kind of rabble the vapers can rouse, though.
At the council's Jan. 7 Community Development Committee meeting, e-cig users and sellers suggested that if cigar and hookah bars are exempt from the ordinance, so should their stores, where customers can "taste" vape products.Not too surprising that the vapists imagine themselves as defenders of the little guy against Big Pharma. They do give off that kind of vibe. One vape guy was so passionate that he told us he was, "on fire," which seemed an inappropriate thing to be at this particular hearing. Another told us about his clubbed foot which, he, I guess, implied was caused by tobacco although it wasn't clear. There was a point where I started to wonder what the overlap is between vapists and people who believe in chemtrails.
"We don't have a problem with the regulation of electronic cigarettes," said Anthony Kolesa, who runs Smoke Cignals, adding that many e-cig supporters would back the measure if it removed them from the picture.
"We’re all fighting against Big Tobacco," Chad Rogers said. "(The smoke-free campaign) is with Big Pharmaceutical. We’re by ourselves."
Some of the health professionals there tried to point out that, while there are no long term studies on vaping just yet, habitually inhaling a batch of nicotine spiked chemicals is probably.. you know.. not good for you. They were somewhat overshadowed by more hysterical speakers who seemed convinced that e-cigarettes were really just vessels for surreptitiously smoking weed. One person seemed to think that people are vaping crack. But she may have just had that confused with the "King Cake flavored e-juice."
I don't know what to say about the vape provision of the ordinance. Vaping seems pretty gross. But I think it's only in the ordinance in the first place so as to have something to negotiate away before it passes.
A second interest group with significant representation was comprised of employees of Harrah's Casinos whose presence was.. probably not coerced, exactly... but certainly encouraged. Of the various business owners, bar patrons, and concerned citizens arguing against the ordinance on the grounds that the "free market" was sorting the smoking issue out on its own, the Harrah's people were the least credible.
Sure, there are casinos where management is learning how to adjust to a non-smoking environment. But, in the great majority of cases, this is happening because state and local governments have required that it happen and not through the influence of some magical invisible hand of the market.
"The free market" wants casinos to allow smoking. The most efficient way to run this business depends on trapping people indoors and keeping them disoriented enough to remain in one place continuously emptying their pockets for as long as possible. Asking them to step outside, even for a cigarette is, anathema to the entire model.
Such a model, naturally, requires casino floor employees to expose themselves to a hazardous smoke-filled environment shift after shift. This is a long-running issue in the industry playing out in labor negotiations and in the courts.
In September (2010), a former employee of the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City, N.J., settled a lawsuit against his ex-employer for $4.5 million. The plaintiff, Vince Rennich, claimed his lung cancer was caused by 25 years of exposure to secondhand smoke at work.A few years ago, a similar suit was brought by the family of a Harrah's New Orleans employee
The mother of a former Harrah's dealer who died of cancer last year filed the federal suit Wednesday against the casino's owner, Nevada-based Caesars Entertainment Corp.That one was dismissed but only on technical grounds. Which is one reason the appearance of Harrah's management at City Hall last night came off as obnoxious as it did. It did, however, allow an opportunity for Latoya Cantrell to fire off the evening's best zinger.
The suit claims Maceo Bevrotte Jr.'s cancer was "directly linked" to his prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke at the casino. The suit says Bevrotte worked at Harrah's for about 15 years.
Cantrell asks casino rep. from administrative office who opposes ban: "So you can smoke in your office?" "No, ma'am."
— The_GambitLIVE (@The_GambitLIVE) January 15, 2015
In my mind, the only concern over the ordinance has to do with whether it will cause new noise complaints when smokers go outside. It was an issue raised in this Advocate article last weekend.
But the prospect of having people loitering outside late at night to smoke and perhaps drink worries owners of some bars tucked away in residential neighborhoods.But even though this is a legitimate concern, it's really a separate issue from the smoking ban itself. And it's certainly no justification for requiring bartenders, food servers, casino floor workers, musicians, etc. to work in an unnecessarily hazardous environment night after night. We love to get on TV and talk about how much "tourism matters" and how important all of these service industry jobs are. Doesn't it follow that we should ensure those jobs are safe and healthy for the people who do them?
“It’s the city that’s putting this rule in place, and they’re putting more of these quality-of-life issues on the table without a real good solution to the problems that are going to arise out of them,” said Bill Walker, who has co-owned the Lost Love Lounge in the Marigny since 2010.