Apr 112011

Owen Courrèges

Uptown New Orleans is home to a unique and valuable establishment – Dos Jefes Cigar Bar at 5535 Tchoupitoulas.  At Dos Jefes, a man (or woman) can smoke and drink while listening to live music or just talking with friends in a casual environment.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m actually not that much of a smoker and am not a regular at Dos Jefes.  Still, I do enjoy the occasional cigar or pipe, but smoking regularly has just never appealed to me.  Nevertheless, when I do get the urge, I like to know that, if I so desire, there’s a commercial establishment designed for that purpose.  The market serves the need.

Alas, there are those currently conspiring in Baton Rouge to see that the market no longer serves this need, and that all bars and casinos are made smoke-free.  The group is called the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living (LCTFL).  You might have seen their “Let’s Be Totally Clear” campaign around town on television and billboards, featuring musicians and bartenders complaining that they aren’t being provided their right to clean air in the workplace.

When the LCTFL pushed a smoking ban for bars and casinos last year, it failed.  However, when the legislature reconvenes on April 25th, it is widely expected that a broader smoking ban will once again be on the bargaining table.

The LCTFL’s logic is simple enough.  Second-hand smoke is bad for you.  It increases an individual’s risk of developing lung cancer or emphysema, among other things.

Over time, the public has been made broadly aware of these risks.   Nevertheless, even nonsmokers routinely patronize bars and casinos that allow smoking.  Nonsmokers will also often accept jobs with smoking establishments.  These brave souls voluntarily expose themselves the danger, knowing the risk.

The problem here, though, isn’t that second-hand smoke is dangerous.  It’s that second-hand smoke isn’t dangerous enough.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, living with a smoker increases a non-smoker’s risk of developing lung cancer by 20-30%.  That’s not insignificant, but it’s not that great either.  Consuming too many servings of milk actually poses a greater cancer risk.

By expressing the increased risk as a percentage, the anti-smoking forces imply a far greater danger than actually exists.   The baseline risk of getting lung cancer is small, so increasing that risk slightly isn’t something your average person will base their decisions around.   Deep down, your average patron or job-seeker knows that the risk is relatively minor.

Of course, smoking does cause other problems for non-smokers.  It smells, and the smell lingers on clothing.  For some, the smoke is an allergy trigger.  If a venue allows smoking, it tends to keep some potential customers away even as it attracts others.

However, this dynamic is already reflected in the market.  Some bars and event venues have gone non-smoking, including Tipitina’s and the Columns Hotel Bar, and they benefit by catering to those who have a particular aversion to smoking.  Most other establishments, however, have remained smoking venues and still cater to smokers and non-smokers alike.  Non-smokers either don’t care, or they suck it up because the venue offers other amenities.

The point of all this is that the market provides options.  Customers and employees can weigh the benefits and downsides of smoking establishments, and they are doing so rationally.  The law doesn’t need to create a “one-size-fits-all” solution.  Nobody is being trapped.  Everything is voluntary.

Of course, the situation is all the more stark when dealing with bars like Dos Jefes that are actually designed to cater to smokers.  The legislation as previously proposed contained no exemptions for cigar bars or any other establishments specifically marketed towards smokers.

And in any case, there is a certain comical element in trying to push healthy living in dens of vice like bars and casinos.  One imagines seeing a slobbering drunk at the bar, his liver screaming in agony, begrudging a smoker his cigarette.

Ultimately, we do not need to be “totally clear.”  The owners of bars and casinos can decide for themselves whether to allow smoking, and their employees and patrons can decide for themselves whether to do business based on that decision.   Here’s to hoping that the legislature reaches that decision (again) when it reconvenes later this month.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

  3 Responses to “Owen Courrèges: Clear enough already”

  1. “Non-smokers either don’t care, or they suck it up because the venue offers other amenities.”

    Allow me to clear the air here–overall you couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’m with you on the fact that cigar bars are supposed to serve cigars, and I’m all for Dos Jeffes remaining a smoking bar. I’m also all for people smoking, as long as it’s not in a closed space where I’m impacted. But allowing smoking at concerts or dance clubs and forcing non-smokers to just “suck it up?”–sorry, but it does bug most non-smokers. Some are more vocal about it, but when asked most will admit that they prefer frequenting non-smoking establishments.

    In the last year since I’ve been diagnosed with asthma I’ve missed three of my favorite international acts and have not been able to work a part-time gig in a bar. All because of cigarette smoke. I don’t consider missing out on a paycheck as an “option” I’m willing to take. I’m just one individual, but cigarette smoking in public entertainment venues has negatively impacted my life, and I would really appreciate being able to have my work and social life back.

    • Allyson,

      I sympathize, but if the venue operators want to cater to smokers, that should remain their decision. It’s not just smoking, either. Some people have sensitive hearing and need music venues to not turn up the volume so high. Those with certain allergies might have problems if a bar serves peanuts. Unfortunately, you can’t, and shouldn’t, cater to every sensitivity.

      Also, as I said in my piece, nobody is “forcing non-smokers to just ‘suck it up.'” Nobody is “forcing” you to go to any private venues. Nobody is “forcing” you to be impacted. Smoking does understandably bother many non-smokers, but if they are going to these venues anyway despite the smoke, they are indeed making a calculation that favors the other qualities of the venue over the presence of smoking.

      In any case, there are a growing number of music venues that have gone non-smoking, and as long as it’s voluntary, more power to them. The problem I have is the notion that there’s anything justified about the government stepping in. That’s the only force involved here.

  2. I don’t care for children. I think they’re pretty disgusting,dirty,loud & obnoxious. They pick their butts & other gross things and don’t wash their hands. They carry sickness. So I don’t hang out at playgrounds or toy stores and I would never become a nanny, a pediatrician or a nursury school teacher.If you don’t like kids(smoking),don’t lurk at my playground (smoking bars)like a creepy pedophiles(anti smoke nazis)then.

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