Smoking ban in Louisiana bars? Senate says "No."

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With a 15-22 vote, the Senate today shot down a bill that would've banned smoking in Louisiana bars — despite the Senate's Health & Welfare Committee's thumbs up for Senate Bill 133, which exempted casinos from the ban, and an aggressive ad campaign by the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco Free Living (TFL).

Likely killing the bill was an amendment that would prevent the Department of Health and Hospitals from renewing or issuing health permits to "any facility operated by or on the lands of a sovereign Indian nation" unless compliant with the law — in other words, casinos were brought back to the mix, effectively destroying any chance of the bill succeeding. A similar situation occurred in 2009, when legislature was poised to ban smoking in bars — but failed, after a late addition of casinos, previously exempt from the ban, were lumped into the bill.

Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Gross Tete, who wrote the bill, pushed a similar bill last year, toting, "How many more studies do we need before we do the right thing and make bars and casinos in Louisiana smoke-free?" (The House Health & Welfare Committee rejected his bill by a vote of 8-4. In 2009 and 2010, members of the committee drew at least $18,430 from tobacco companies, related subsidiaries and connected lobbying firms, according to the Louisiana Ethics Administration.) Read more on the smoking lobby and potential smoking bans from the Gambit cover story "Smoke-Filled Rooms."

TFL's Let's Be Totally Clear Campaign, via billboard and print ads and TV spots, has pushed for a smoking ban, citing health concerns for both patrons and employees. Earlier this year the group published results from air-quality tests it analyzed in Lafayette barrooms during December 2010 and January. The tests, performed by TFL and Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center's School of Public Health, rated 17 of 22 smoke-filled barrooms as "unhealthy," "very unhealthy" or "hazardous," measurements defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those readings present "serious risk of respiratory effects in the general population, and significant aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in people with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly," according to the report.

Many bar and club owners in New Orleans are skeptical to make the smoke-free switch without cover of law — how do you maintain a client base without alienating your customers? Bars like Dos Jefes Cigar Bar, which thrives on its smoke factor, don't support a ban. Then there are bar owners like Robert LeBlanc, who voluntarily made his bars Capdeville, LePhare, loa and Republic smoke-free. Venues like Tipitina's and, more recently, d.b.a. have also made the switch.

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