In a somewhat confusing finale of a Shreveport City Council meeting Tuesday, members voted to delay a scheduled vote on the Smoke-Free Air Act. Under consideration: Potentially repealing the portion of the no-smoking ordinance that would affect casinos.
In an initial vote Tuesday, the repeal passed by a 4-3 vote. Then, confusion and concern over the allowed smoking situation in rival Bossier City casinos led to a 5-1 decision to table the vote for the time being.
Battle of the ban heats up in Shreveport
The Shreveport City Council passed the smoking ban last summer. The ordinance banned smoking in all workplaces and expected to go into effect August 1, 2020. Partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the council pushed implementation to August 1, 2021.
The casino industry wants an exemption on the grounds that the ban harms both the casino business and the local economy. Councilman James Flurry made the initial proposal for exemption.
Smoke-Free Louisiana and health experts have opposed an exemption, emphasizing the need for a healthy workplace for casino employees.
The American Heart Association has made a petition available on its website that people against the exemption can sign. The petition states that: “This underhanded, last-minute attempt would not only set the city of Shreveport back, but specifically would affect the 75% of Black or African Americans working in the hospitality industry in the city.”
If the repeal passes at the next vote, Shreveport would become the only city in the country to reverse an already-passed smoking ban.
Impassioned voices protest exemption prior to vote
Numerous people spoke passionately against passing an exemption for casinos. Representatives of Tobacco Free Louisiana, Smoke-Free Louisiana and the American Heart Association participated. Points made by them included:
- Air quality in casinos where smoking is permitted is “toxic, hazardous.”
- Casinos have been complaining of a slump in business even before the smoking ban begins.
- Casinos had 13 months to prepare for the ban and did not.
- The airline industry similarly protested the 1980s ban on smoking on airplanes.
Dr. Martha Whyte of the Office of Public Health made a case for keeping the ban as is, pointing out that:
- Casino workers are not allowed to ask smokers to move away.
- Only 15% of people smoke nowadays and so it’s “not right” for them to subject the other 85% to second-hand smoke.
- Any city revenue via casinos that is lost can be made up in health savings.
A 12-year-old student told the council that their decision “affects my health and my future tomorrow.”
First-hand experience was provided by a casino worker who discussed the “wall of smoke” that builds up during heavily trafficked casino hours. The result was “nausea” and “dizziness.”
No one at the hearing spoke on behalf of the casinos.
Will the smoking ban stay in Shreveport?
So far, similar Louisiana battles over restrictions against smoking have resulted in wins for the non-smoking side.
Research to date doesn’t support the contention that casino profits would decrease because of a smoking ban.
The Hayride reasoned that a lack of authorized smoking attracts enough non-smokers to make up for any lost smokers, a take shared at the hearing by a Smoke-Free Louisiana consultant.