Revised no-smoking law headed to council

by Walter Pierce

It failed in May on a 5-4 vote, but one former opponent of the ban, District 7 Councilman Don Bertrand, worked with the sponsors to find a compromise.

An ordinance to ban smoking in bars in the city of Lafayette and unincorporated parish has been re-lit after being voted down in May by a 5-4 margin. However, one of the nay votes last time, District 7 Councilman Don Bertrand, has signed on as a co-sponsor of the new ordinance, which has undergone several amendments to placate those councilmen who felt the ordinance as proposed in May was too heavy-handed on the part of government. The ordinance goes before the City-Parish Council as an introductory item on Tuesday and if approved would be up for a final vote two weeks after that.

“I got with Kenneth and we made some amendments I wanted in it,” says Bertrand, referring to Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, the original sponsor.

The gist of the new revised ordinance is that venues where live music is performed will be subject to the smoking ban, but non-live music bars can be exempted — essentially grandfathered — if they fill out a form within 30 days of the ordinance becoming law stating they wish to remain a smoking establishment. In effect, bars can be either live-music venues or bars where smoking is allowed but they can’t be both.

“Essentially what we’re doing is we’re not putting anybody out of business because their clientele smokes,” Bertrand says. “But if that’s the kind of place they are they can’t have live music.”

Venues that choose to remain smoker-friendly will also have to hang signage on their establishments warning customers that smoking is allowed. Those signs will also warn of the dangers of smoking tobacco — “kind of like what you have on a pack of cigarettes,” Bertrand adds.

The signs, according to Bertrand, are also meant to warn job seekers about exposure to second-hand smoke should they choose to apply for employment at those bars where the owner allows smoking.

“We’re putting the people on notice that go there and work there,” Bertrand explains. “You have a choice — you can work for them or you can go some place where they don’t allow smoking."

The revised ordinance would also exempt places of business that sell smoke products, including the increasingly popular vapor-type nicotine-delivery devices, from the no-smoking law. Currently in Lafayette where smoking is prohibited, smokers must be at least 25 feet from the entrance of a non-smoking establishment. The amended ordinance has an exclusion for bars, meaning bar patrons can step right outside the door for a cigarette if the venue prohibits smoking.

The push to ban smoking in bars has been driven for the last few years in Lafayette and elsewhere by a coalition of public health groups and, notably, musicians who have long been forced to endure second-hand smoke to earn a living. Councilman Kevin Naquin, a popular Cajun accordionist and band leader, has also signed on as a co-sponsor of the new ordinance.

Bertrand says protecting musician health is a primary component of the new ordinance, and bars that have only occasional live music will have to decide between remaining smoker-friendly or committing to becoming musician-friendly, even if they only have infrequent live music.

“If it’s going to be a live-music establishment you cannot have smoking. It can’t be both — one or the other,” he says.

Bars that sign up to remain smoker-friendly, however, cannot remain so if the owner sells the business; the smoking prohibition would then kick in. Several popular bars in Lafayette have already banned smoking on their own, something Bertrand supports.

“That’s the way it should be,” he says. “What I don’t want to have is to put a bar out of business that’s been operating [as a smoking venue] for a long time.”