Dig Baton Rouge

East of the River

By Katie East

Last week, the New Orleans City Council voted a ban on smoking in public establishments. Despite arguments on both sides, the Council unanimously voted to make smoking illegal in bars and casinos: the bread and butter of New Orleans’ economy.

The ordinance was not without its cynics. Many New Orleans’ natives are claiming that the local government is taking away what makes New Orleans so special. Next, skeptics say, they’ll outlaw live music and open containers.

Come on, we all know that’s not going to happen. Alcohol is money. Tourism is money. Tourism equalso alcohol. That’s an equation we can all get behind.

Do you think anyone flies from Minnesota to New Orleans to smoke in a bar like in the old days? No. But you bet your ass that millions of people come from around the country—and world—to drink in the streets. That ain’t going away.

Plus, the government is wising up to the wants of the people. Outdated and religious blue laws are being amended here and in other parts of the state. Marijuana use is being decriminalized and even legalized around the country.

In general, the government is loosening up on its strict Dad policies. That is, if you don’t count that whole continuing to uphold sodomy thing.

What I’m saying is, booze is here to stay. This ban is not a slippery slope to affecting our booze culture.

Look, I can see the argument that taking away smoking is like taking away a piece of New Orleans; it is. Walking into the French Quarter is like stepping back in time. People sip their sazeracs in crumbling buildings while puffing away in a dimly lit jazz club; it’s romantic in an antiquated way.

Welp, the past can’t last forever. And the times, they are a changin’.

Those looking for nostalgia needn’t worry; the smell of smoke won’t be leaving those New Orleans establishments any time soon. It’s baked into the walls and seats of every bar South of the Bonnet Carre.

The New Orleans City Council ruled on something more important than cancer-filled, olfactory memories: health and civil liberties.

It seems that everyone who is up in arms about this city-wide ban points first to the civil liberties of smokers being taken away. But what about the right of non-smokers to breathe clean air when they are, you know, existing? Smoking is a choice, breathing isn’t.

Non-smokers counter: “It’s your choice to go to a bar that has smoking. You can choose to go to a non-smoking bar if you want to.”

And indeed, I often do. But how many non-smoking options are there when there’s no law in place to force it? The options are slim, especially in New Orleans. Tell me one good place I can get crunk and twerk the night away without having to worry about crying through the smoke.

What? You think just because I don’t smoke that I don’t deserve to dance? You’re telling me I can’t dance? What, are you the Dad from Footloose?

I know it can be annoying to have something you like taken away because of someone’s stupid allergy. But come on, be a little empathetic and just go outside and smoke. It’s not like they’re outlawing cigarettes.

I’m allergic to smoke; I have to miss out on all sorts of shows and even jobs because of it. I have to end nights early or miss a certain job because I can’t physically stand inside. Smokers have to miss the band for a five-minute break; I have to call it a night hours early.

Your “right” as a smoker, shouldn’t infringe upon my right of being a cancer-free human.

Luckily, the New Orleans City Council agreed with me. They said:

“[T]here is no legal or constitutional ‘right to smoke.’ Business owners have no legal or constitutional right to expose their employees and customers to the toxic chemicals in secondhand smoke. On the contrary, employers have a common law duty to provide their workers with a workplace that is not unreasonably dangerous.”

As a comedian and someone who makes my livelihood at those very bars, I am beyond thrilled with this decision. Now, I don’t have turn down jobs just for fear of getting sick from cigarettes.

Call it another win for big government and a loss for civil liberties. I, on the other hand, am breathing a sigh of relief.

So, is the Red Stick, next to become smoke free? Come on Baton Rouge, if NOLA can do it, you can do it. The Big Easy has a tradition deep rooted in debauchery and steeped in smoke and the ban still managed to pass there. What’s your excuse, Baton Rouge?

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