Next month, the New Orleans City Council will begin to dissect a new ordinance that could drastically limit where smoking is allowed in New Orleans. As written, District B City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell’s ordinance bans smoking (and using any tobacco products) from within 25 feet of businesses
— including bars and other smoke-friendly businesses. Opponents of the ordinance say it could cause a logistical nightmare, particularly in the business-dense French Quarter, where many doorways are within 25 feet of the one next door.
District C City Councilmember Nadine Ramsey
— whose district covers the Vieux Carre — already is moving to exempt some businesses in the Quarter from Cantrell’s measure, with mixed success.
Last week, the City Planning Commission denied Ramsey’s motion to request that the city’s Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO) create a new definition of a “tobacco retail business” in the Vieux Carre. The motion defined a tobacco retail business as any business where “the sales of tobacco products and accessories (for on-premises consumption)” accounts for 70 percent of its revenue, where “alcoholic beverages and/or food products are sold or served for consumption on premises, but where neither live entertainment nor gambling are provided,” and “where package liquor products are not advertised or off the premises or in any place visible from the exterior of the premises.”
It makes the distinction between, say, a bar or a convenience store selling cigars (which is defined as a retail business) from the French Quarter’s cigar bars — currently, the CZO lumps smoking lounges in the same category as cocktail lounges.
Ramsey’s motion also recommended making tobacco retail businesses allowable as a conditional use in the VCC-2 district — where cocktail lounges are prohibited. City Planning was concerned that cocktail lounges could circumvent the zoning restriction by acting as a “smoking lounge.” City Planning also said those are “similar enough in operational density” that they should retain the same zoning restrictions.
The City Planning Commission denied Ramsey’s motion
, though it did support reclassification in theory — the licensing, however, would also have to change. (The Department of Finance currently doesn’t make the distinction of smoking lounge or cocktail lounge.)
But on Dec. 11, Ramsey made a last-minute request to overrule City Planning’s recommendation, in order to avoid a motion-killing deadline. City Council voted 5-0 to approve the motion, though not without some hesitation. “Given the ordinance to end smoking in bars and casinos,” said District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry
, “this kind of flies in the face of that.”
Guidry — who is co-sponsoring Cantrell’s measure — added that she was “not comfortable with the lack of time to review this.”
“My staff has talked to Councilmember Cantrell,” Ramsey said, adding that council will hold public hearings and “work with her to ensure the language will correspond with her no smoking ban.”
Guidry said that Ramsey’s motion still wouldn’t address the health of workers “who are nonsmokers and subject to smoke,” one of the primary reasons Cantrell introduced the non-smoking measure.
“I’m very cautious of moving forward,” Cantrell told Ramsey. “However, I also am reassured by you and your staff that we will deal with this at the ordinance phase to ensure there’s no conflict with the proposed smoking ordinance, even as we look at cigar establishments, where its a primary business and not a bar. I will support this moving forward so it will not die, only in hopes that we will work out text appropriately.”
On Jan. 7, City Council's Community Development Committee is expected to discuss Cantrell's smoking measure.