Will the council kick butts tonight?

by Walter Pierce

Ban on smoking in bars is up for final adoption.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Wikimedia

[Update: The council passed the ordinance by a 7-2 vote.]

The Lafayette City-Parish Council will vote tonight (Tuesday, April 18) on whether to ban smoking and use of e-cigarettes in bars. Five of the nine members of the CPC — the simple majority needed to pass the ordinance — have co-sponsored the measure, suggesting it is poised to pass.

District 7 Councilwoman Nanette Cook, one of the co-sponsors of the ordinance, says she believes that not only are the other four co-sponsors still on board, but the ordinance is likely to pick up an extra vote or two.

For the Republican freshman on the council who is also a physical education teacher, the no-smoking ordinance wasn’t a tough sell.

“I came to it as just a public-health issue,” Cook tells The Independent. “I felt like, as a government, our job is to provide the community with clean water, clean air. I look at it first from a standpoint of public health.”

Cook says several bar owners who have already voluntarily banned smoking in their establishments have voiced support for the ordinance. But, she says she recognizes that the ordinance could impact some smaller bars where — at least according to the owners who have lobbied her against supporting the ordinance — “everybody smokes.”

Nanette Cook
Photo by Robin May

I don’t feel good about that; I’m not trying to hurt their business, but again, I have to go back to the standpoint of a public health issue,” she explains. “If it were something as simple as you choose to smoke and it affects only you — that’s one thing. But your choosing to smoke affects everybody in that bar — smokers and non-smokers.”

The public comment portion of tonight’s council meeting will likely be lengthy, as they typically are when the council votes on “controversial” issues. And there will no doubt be several residents who make a common argument seen in comment threads on social media: The government shouldn’t be telling private business owners what they can or can’t do with their business. The rugged individualism plea, let’s call it.

“You’re right: It’s a private business and they should be able to run it how they want to run it — until it affects public health,” Cooks says in response. “If your activities in your particular bar creates a situation where anyone can’t just walk in without having some negative effect on their health, then yeah, I’m sorry, somebody has to step in and do something.”

Rhonda Ball Egan, widow of late singer-songwriter David Egan, has been heavily involved in the campaign to rid bars of second-hand smoke. Her late husband, a non-smoker, died last spring of lung cancer after playing in smoky bars over a more than three-decade career. David Egan was one of several celebrity faces of the Let’s Be Totally Clear media campaign to stamp out smoking in all public places. Rhonda Egan says fans signed cards of support for the smoke-free campaign at the resent “Sing It!” series of concerts celebrating David’s songs.

Rhonda Egan credits the work of Tobacco-Free Living and others who have kept the issue front-burner since not long after the Louisiana Legislature in 2007 passed the Louisiana Smoke Free Air Act, which barred smoking in restaurants statewide. The state law exempted bars and casinos, but gave local municipalities the authority to regulate smoking if they chose.

“It’s a combination of the dedication for years of the [Tobacco-Free Living] workers, especially Rene Stansbury here in our area, Kathy Richard at the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation, and finally, finally the leadership of this city council,” Egan says. “I have my fingers crossed.”

Egan says she plans to rally with supporters of the ordinance in advance of Tuesday’s council meeting.

Joining Cook in co-sponsoring the ordinance are fellow council members Kenneth Boudreaux, Bruce Conque, Pat Lewis and Kevin Naquin. Cook adds that her constituents have been generally supportive of the ordinance.

“We have gotten more positive emails from this than negative, I will tell you,” she says. “The support has been 5-1 [in favor].”