On January 22, the New Orleans City Council unanimously voted to ban most indoor smoking in the city, including in bars and casinos. Given New Orleans’ freewheeling reputation, it was a battle that many thought could not be won and a sweet victory for a large coalition of people, ranging from musicians and waiters to public health advocates.
Among the latter is Dr. Elizabeth Fontham of Louisiana State University, who in 1994 was the lead author of the first case-control study showing that secondhand smoke increased a person’s risk of lung cancer. Now, more than 20 years later, she has seen her hometown of New Orleans go smoke-free.
“It’s been a long time coming and there has been a lot of stiff opposition to the idea, but this ban will finally mean that musicians and waiters and all the people who work in New Orleans’ large service industry aren’t jeopardizing their health just by going to work,” said Dr. Fontham, whose work helped lead her to become the first dean of LSU’s School of Public Health and the first non-physician head of the American Cancer Society. “It also shows just how essential it is for public health advocates to partner with all kinds of people and organizations to get things done.”
The Louisiana Public Health Institute (LPHI) with its “Healthier Air for All” campaign and the Louisiana Cancer Prevention and Control Programs (LCP), housed at the LSU School of Public Health, along with the American Cancer Society and others, educated people about the tobacco research on which the ban was based. APHA too played a major part in advancing a smoke-free New Orleans by holding its 2014 annual conference in the city – in spite of a policy that usually precludes doing so in a place that permits smoking. APHA’s presence in the city not only helped focus attention on smoke-free efforts, but encouraged its passage and also paved the way for other health-related organizations to consider New Orleans as a viable venue.
The effort also took people like Mr. Irvin Mayfield, the well-known trumpeter and bandleader, who told the New Orleans City Council, “We need the same type of healthy environment that every other professional needs to do their job, to be able to do it well.” Blinking back tears, Deacon John, a prominent New Orleans musician, testified “Personally, I am sick and tired of witnessing our beloved musicians and artists suffering and dying from the detrimental effects of secondhand smoke.”
The ordinance, which was introduced by Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell, will go into effect in 90 days. It includes e-cigarettes, with violators facing fines ranging from $100 for a first offense to $500 for a third offense in a 12-month period. The ban does not extend to cigar and hookah bars that already exist, and vaping will continue to be allowed in e-cigarette stores. However, no new establishments in those categories will be allowed in order to prevent businesses from changing designations to get around the law.