In a few weeks, New Orleans bars and casinos will be smoke- and vape-free — unless Harrah's New Orleans can convince the New Orleans City Council to make an exception. The casino has opposed the council's smoking ban (championed by health advocates as well as Mayor Mitch Landrieu) since public debate on the idea began last year. At council meetings, Harrah's spokespeople and employees said the ban would create a negative trickle-down economic impact as gamblers spend less time in the casino at the foot of Canal Street and take their business to other area casinos where they can smoke.
Proponents of the smoking ban have said the public health of casino workers and customers trumps any speculative financial ruin, which they believe will be short-term, if anything.
With the April 22 smoke-free deadline less than a month away, Harrah's has pushed the council to reconsider by citing the "unintended consequences" of the ban. The casino wants to propose a compromise to avoid the loss of city revenue (as part of Harrah's lease agreement with the city). In a March 20 statement, Harrah's spokesperson Jade Russell said the casino's anticipated decline in tax revenue also would impact its contributions to public safety and education.
The Smoke-Free New Orleans Coalition — which includes the Louisiana Public Health Institute among other health advocates — argued that the casino's late-in-the-game arguments are "scare tactics" and are "[holding] kids hostage with their last-ditch effort to dodge New Orleans' workplace smoking prohibition that the City Council passed unanimously."
Meanwhile, the city has launched a website (www.nola.gov/smokefree) as part of its public outreach campaign to help businesses prepare to go smoke-free. Businesses also can register for a "toolkit" with new signage and smoking cessation information.