First draft of New Orleans smoking ordinance bans all tobacco products from public areas

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New Orleans District B City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell caps off 2014's second Smoke-Free Week with the first look at a citywide smoking ordinance that aims to significantly limit where smoking is allowed, in the name of public and workplace health and safety.

The measure, which amends the city's already-existing smoking ordinances under its Smoke-Free Air Act, prohibits not only cigarettes but all tobacco products, including electronic smoking devices, hookahs and "natural or synthetic marijuana" and "other plant products" in bars, casinos, private clubs, correctional facilities and other "public" areas, including workplaces and school campuses, colleges and specialty schools. District A City Councilwoman Susan Guidry co-sponsored the measure.
Here are several new rules under the measure:

  • Under the ordinance, smoking also is prohibited within 25 feet of entrances and windows at businesses. It also prohibits smoking in all parks and all public transportation platforms, stations and shelters, as well as within 25 feet of parks and public transportation platforms, stations and shelters, and within 200 feet of entrances, exits or outdoor areas of schools. (It's not applicable to people who live within that boundary or driving through it.)

  • Smoking also is prohibited at all outdoor property adjacent to buildings owned, leased or operated by the city; all outdoor shopping malls (including parking lots); outdoor arenas; stadiums and amphitheaters (and 25 feet within bleachers and grandstands); outdoor recreational activities and 25 feet from all outdoor public events; and outdoor services lines — including lines (and cars in lines) for bank tellers and parking lot attendants — within 25 feet of the point of service; outdoor common areas of apartment buildings, condos, retirement and nursing homes; and work areas not confined to offices shared by two or more people, like construction sites and work vehicles.

  • Smoking still is allowed in homes and vehicles, hotel rooms designated as smoking, tobacco businesses, private and semiprivate rooms or apartments in assisted living facilities designated as smoking, and places that manufacture, import, wholesale or distribute tobacco products.

  • Tobacco retailers can't build within 300 feet of parks, churches, libraries, schools, childcare facilities and similar places for young people. The ordinance grandfathers in existing businesses already within those boundaries.

  • Businesses impacted by the ordinance must post "no smoking" signs and remove all ashtrays.

  • Violators of the ordinances are subject to a $100 fine for the first violation, and $200 for a second within 12 months of the first, and $500 for a third. Enforcement is overseen by the city's Department of Health as well as the city's property management employees, the Department of Safety and Permits, Parks and Parkways, NORDC, NOPD, NOFD and code enforcement officers.

  • The measure is effective 30 days after its adoption.

The 25-page ordinance outlines in its first eight pages the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke, citing multiple health studies from the U.S. Surgeon General, the National Cancer Institute, Institute of Medicine of the National Academies and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others. It outlines that there is "no risk-free level of exposure to second-hand smoke" and that "establishing smoke-free workplaces is the only effective way to ensure that secondhand smoke exposure does not occur in the workplace, because ventilation and other air cleaning technologies cannot completely control exposure of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke."

It also warns of residual tobacco contamination, or "thirdhand" smoke, like smoke residue and buildup on indoor surfaces.

The ordinance — which calls electronic cigarettes, aka e-cigs or vaporizers or vape pens, "unregulated high-tech smoking devices" — also cites the FDA's recent statements regarding e-cigs' "inconsistent or non-existent" "quality control process."

It asserts there is "no legal or constitutional 'right to smoke'" and "business owners have no legal or constitutional right to expose their employees and customers" to secondhand smoke. "On the contrary, employers have a common law duty to provide their workers with a workplace that is not unreasonably dangerous," it says.

The legislation follows what many bars in the city have done themselves. Most recently, Maple Leaf Bar and Winston's Pub have banned smoking, adding their names to a growing list of smoke-free bars and venues. A statewide measure prohibiting smoking on all state college campuses kicked in Aug. 1. UNO expanded the ban to include all tobacco products. New Orleans private universities also have instituted bans (Loyola will draft its policy next year). And several municipalities in Louisiana have recently approved smoking bans — in Alexandria, Monroe, West Monroe and all of Ouachita Parish, smoking is prohibited in bars and near public buildings. 

Supporters of the Cantrell's measure include Mayor Mitch Landrieu and several New Orleans City Councilmembers. Opponents believe non-smoking measures should be left to businesses to determine themselves.

Chris Young of the French Quarter Business League (FQBL) said in a Nov. 12 statement that the measure "will have a devastating impact on badly needed tax revenues that provide police and fire protection, maintain the streets, pays government employees and keeps the city moving ahead." He added that the ordinance "cuts against New Orleans' strong tradition of tolerance and diverse lifestyles," and Cantrell oversteps "the private right of smokers to smoke in private business establishments."

The FQBL is part of the Freedom to Choose Coalition, which is "vigorously opposing" the measure, according to a Nov. 20 statement. The coalition also includes the Louisiana Restaurant Association, Louisiana Amusement and Music Operators Association, Louisiana Video Gaming Association, Louisiana Association of Wholesalers and Harrah’s Casino.

In a Nov. 12 statement, Stan Harris of the Louisiana Restaurant Association said the City Council "has a responsibility to give everyone whom the Ordinance would affect the opportunity to be heard. We hope they will allow time for this to happen.”

After the ordinance's first reading into the record, it will likely head to the City Council's Community Development Committee for public discussion and review before heading to the full City Council for more discussion and a vote.

Read the ordinance below:

See related PDF Smokefree_Air_Act__Ordinance_Draft_11.19.doc.docx.pdf

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