ANR UPDATE, 34(1), Spring 2015

Breathe Easy in the Big Easy!

"We can't talk about improving the health of our citizens while we continue to have them spend 8, 10, even 12 hours in workplaces that make them sick."
- Powerful words from Smokefree New Orleans bill sponsor, Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell

In a huge victory for nonsmokers' rights, the New Orleans City Council enacted a strong smokefree law on January 22nd that will finally bring clean air to the bars, casinos, and hotels in the Big Easy. Implementation is planned for April 22nd.

After a roller coaster campaign that included opposition from Big Tobacco, along with numerous casino, bar, and electronic cigarette trade groups and lobbyists, the city council unanimously passed the ordinance to protect ALL workers from secondhand smoke exposure throughout the city.

Opponents are trying to roll back the law before it even takes effect. Harrah's New Orleans Casino (owned by Caesars) lobbied hard for an exemption, citing the usual anecdotes of economic doom, but ANR was able to provide the truth about smokefree casinos, including the fact that Caesars has 15 successful smokefree casinos in other markets. At the final council hearing, a sick former Harrah's employee - a lifelong nonsmoker - told the council how he got lung cancer from the secondhand smoke in the casino, and that the casino then fired him while he was in the hospital for cancer treatment.

One highlight of the campaign was the support from the city's music and entertainment industry. Well-known musicians including Irvin Mayfield, Jr, Deacon John Moore, Trombone Shorty, and Paul Sanchez spoke up throughout the campaign, and even testified before council, to share their experiences with performing in smoke-filled venues. While each of these internationally famous artists has the ability to turn down offers from smokey venues, their lesser-known colleagues don't have that luxury.

Opponents of the ordinance argued that smoking in New Orleans was just part of the local culture. Musicians and many other residents disagreed. In his testament of support for the ordinance, Councilman Jason Williams argued, "I don't think smoking inside of bars or exposure to secondhand smoke is a part of the culture of New Orleans." In addition to powerful endorsements from the music scene, the campaign was embraced by many of the city's notable entities, including the Pelicans, the Saints, Greek organizations, several social and pleasure clubs, and the faith community.

ANR is gratified to have played a part in this successful grassroots campaign together with our partners. Our Southern States Consultant, Onjewel Smith (at center), had a very personal connection, being a native of New Orleans, and it showed in her dedication to making her hometown smokefree.

We applaud the City Council - especially Councilmember Cantrell - for standing up for its citizens and protecting their right to work in a healthy, smokefree environment. We look forward to being able to... "Breathe Easy in the Big Easy!"

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