In New Orleans, local businesses were protesting a new ban on public smoking even before it was scheduled to take effect Wednesday in bars, hotels, clubs and other public venues throughout the free-spirited city. More than 50 bars and restaurants have filed a suit against the city -- initially to prevent the ban from taking effect, and now in hopes of reversing or postponing it.
In the suit, the businesses -- led by Harrah’s Casino and including bar Pat O’Brien’s and French Quarter restaurants Broussard’s and Café Maspero (where smoking has already been banned) -- contend that the new smoking ban would cost the city millions of dollars in revenue. In a suit filed Friday, the businesses sought a restraining order to prevent the ban from taking effect as scheduled Wednesday. They were unsuccessful, and ultimately a state judge set a date of May 21 for a hearing.
Lobbyists for Harrah’s have argued that the smoking ban would reduce the casino’s revenue by 20 percent and, as a result, lower tax income for the state, the New Orleans Advocate reported. The casino has also threatened to renegotiate its lease for the city-owned land on which the casino sits -- seeking to pay anywhere from $3.5 million to $13.5 million less per year if it is not allowed some sort of exemption from the ban, Jade Russell, a spokeswoman for the casino, told the Advocate.
New Orleans’ City Council passed the smoking ban in late January, with local officials supporting it as a health measure that would ultimately not hurt the profits of local businesses. If Harrah’s isn't required to fully comply, “we’ve defeated the overall purpose of protecting the quality of the work environment,” City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell said, the Advocate reported. Employees at the casino “were looking forward to a day when they could go to work and not have to go home with nosebleeds … not have to go home smelling like a cigarette,” she added.
Many musicians who have to sing or play instruments in those smoke-filled venues have supported the ban. “I need to be able to breathe when I’m trying to sing,” John Boutte, a jazz singer, told the Associated Press.
But Glenn O’Berry, a bartender at Kajun’s Pub, told the AP that the ban would diminish New Orleans’s “whimsical, devil-may-care attitude.”