When you think New Orleans, you think of extravagant Mardi Gras celebrations, smoky bars with fantastic jazz music, its legendary French Quarter, and an overall laissez les bon temps roulez atmosphere. They don't call it the Big Easy for nothing, after all. But as of the stroke of midnight Wednesday, smoking is banned in bars across New Orleans, The New York Times reported, and not everyone is thrilled about it.
The New Orleans city council voted unanimously to ban smoking in city bars, casinos, and restaurants in January, as part of an effort to protect waiters, musicians, and others who work in those establishments from breathing in deadly second-hand smoke. Bethany Bultman, president of the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic and Assistance Foundation, told the Times that musicians can't afford to be choosy about where they play, even if they don't like smoky clubs and are concerned about the implications for their health.
According to CNN, Harrah's casino and a group of bar owners are suing to stop the ban, which they say is going to put a serious dent in profits. But Steve Watson, co-owner of the Kingpin bar in New Orleans told The Times-Picayune that he doesn't think the new rule is going to be a big deal, because everyone has to do it, and New Orleans is behind the curve on a smoking ban anyway.
When Mayor Mitch Landrieu signed the smoking ban into law in January, he said the city had "tried to achieve the appropriate balance between public health, economic development and public security," The Times-Picayune reported. The lawsuit by Harrah's and the bar owners said the financial impact of the ban could mean a decrease in gambling revenue for the city of $1.8 million, while the price tag for enforcing the law would be about $1.2 million. The law does extend to electronic cigarettes as well, according to The Times-Picayune.
The reason the New Orleans smoking ban is so significant is that smoking and drinking are almost as much a part of the city's identity and lore as gambling is in Las Vegas (where there is only a partial ban on smoking, by the way). If a city where debauchery is celebrated can acknowledge that its musicians and wait staff are more important than its image, that's a huge step. Hopefully, it's a move that other large cities without smoking bans can't continue to ignore.