Aug 112014
(Cartoon by Owen Courreges)

(Cartoon by Owen Courreges)

Owen Courreges

A ban on smoking in bars and casinos in the City of New Orleans is beginning to appear increasingly inevitable.  Although a concerted campaign to enact a statewide ban has failed repeatedly in past years, the insidious anti-smoking forces are now focusing on smaller-scale efforts.

In New Orleans, these forces have found a political surrogate in District B City Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell, who plans to introduce a smoking ban this fall.

“This is not an attack, this is about healthier environments for all people: those who work in these environments, musicians, employees,” Cantrell said recently. ”But the majority of the people now within our city and even state, close to 80 percent are non-smokers.”

Cantrell attempts an artful dodge, but the truth is that this is an attack — an attack on a market choice.

Nobody is really arguing that nonsmokers are being underserved by the market.  At present, over a hundred local bars have gone nonsmoking, and the trend is going that direction.  Nevertheless, small neighborhood watering holes with large numbers of regulars who smoke are unlikely to ban smoking of their own volition.  Hence, Cantrell wants to force them.

Although Cantrell’s office says that no legislation has been written yet, it can be anticipated that any local ban will mirror the language of the failed state legislation.  This would mean a ban on smoking in establishments holding “Class A – General Retail” liquor licenses.

This would apply to all bars and casinos, including hookah lounges and cigar bars like Dos Jefe’s on Tchoupitoulas.  Alas, the law necessarily has to be overbroad; any loopholes will be exploited.  If you exempt cigar bars, you can expect many bars to reinvent themselves as exactly that to serve smoking patrons.

Ultimately, that exemplifies the problem.  The persons best situated to know what their customers want are the bar owners themselves.  Customers vote with their feet, and with the increasing availability of smoke-free bars, economic logic dictates that the most efficient result will result from leaving the decision of whether to allow smoking in the hands of the owners.

Numerous studies have been put forth claiming that there is no economic downside to smoking bans, but that doesn’t wash.   These studies tend to use flawed and deceptive models that fail to control for variables and don’t compare gross sales.  It stands to reason that many bars would see no impact, while others would see considerable impact.

The bottom line is that if going nonsmoking were of universal benefit to bar owners, they’d have done it already.  Let’s not pretend they don’t have their eyes on the bottom line.

Also, New Orleans is a special case.  Unlike most places, here in New Orleans most bars have video poker machines and function as quasi-casinos.  This point is crucial, because while many studies purport to show no impact from a smoking ban in bars, evidence indicates that they cause severe economic losses for casinos.

After the Smoke Free Illinois Act was passed in 2008, the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis performed a study on the impact of the Act on casinos and found that casino revenue dropped 20% in the first year, an economic loss of $400 million.  If every bar in the city sees a 20% drop in revenue from video poker, or if Harrah’s sees a 20% drop in total revenue, there will be a considerable economic impact.

And that’s not even getting into the issue of whether Hookah lounges and cigar bars could effectively rebrand themselves to comply with the ban.  Would they continue tobacco sales and sacrifice their liquor licenses, or would they simply become ordinary bars?  Either option would probably be risky – the equivalent of starting a new business.

Irrespectively of whether a smoking ban would hurt alcohol sales, it would take a decision out of the hands of bar owners for the supposed benefit of customers, employees, and performers who voluntarily choose to affiliate with a smoking establishment.  This restriction would be enacted for the sake of a dubious health benefit in businesses where – let’s face it – people don’t go to be healthy.

Furthermore, it would have some ancillary impacts.  It would certainly drive smokers out onto the sidewalk. When smokers gather outside, they’re likely to talk.  When people gather and talk outside a bar late at night, nearby residents complain.  When people start complaining, land use battles erupt.  Consequently, we can expect an increasing number complaints about neighborhood bars when the smokers are pushed outside.

The foregoing gives but a taste of all the consequences that a blanket ban on smoking in casinos and bars will have.  It’s bad law.

I do understand the reasons for such a push.  I’m a nonsmoker and always have been, and I will admit that there are times when I’ve been in a bar and smoke wafting into my face became downright irritating.  I’m also aware that second-hand smoke does create an actual health risk (albeit one that has been vastly exaggerated).

Still, at some point we have to acknowledge that the experience of patronizing or being employed by a bar is a voluntary one, and for many people drinking and smoking go together like biscuits and gravy.  Thus, a bar owner can reasonably decide to permit smoking.  If you don’t like the situation, there are over one hundred other bars practically begging for your patronage.

This is not a case of market failure.  The market is serving everyone’s needs already and there is no need for a government fiat.  There is no need to jump on Cantrell’s bandwagon.

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

  • TimGNO

    Topless bars are legal, but restricted. Ditto bars that serve alcohol. The same should apply to smoking-permitted bars, is what you’re saying. The only major difference among these is that boobs and booze do not float through the atmosphere into the lungs of bystanders, nor threaten them with cancer or disgusting smells.
    So, in your view, tough luck to employees who don’t smoke and to patrons (more emphatically, their non-smoking friends); go find another job/establishment!

    • Owen Courrèges


      I am saying that nonsmoking employees and patrons who are bothered by smoking should go elsewhere, but I’m not saying it’s “tough luck.” It isn’t “luck” at all, but the result of a voluntary choice in a market where nonsmoking choices exist.

      • TraveLAr

        A business should not be allowed to discriminate against employees or the public by telling them to “go elsewhere” if they want to be in a place that follows good health standards. Wipe down counters, refrigerate food, enforce clean air.

      • TimGNO

        I think I will stick with placing the onus on smokers to (a) find their own (private) place to engage in their ridiculous vice, (b) avoid contaminating others’ air space (even fellow smokers), and (c) think twice about smoking’s negative effects on health, hygiene and society in general.
        Making it harder for “them” to enjoy their odious folly is no more “oppressive” than expecting persons afflicted with gag-inducing body odor, festering wounds or uncontrollable diarrhea to “please stay home for the duration if you don’t mind.”

        • Owen Courrèges


          I don’t see why the decision shouldn’t be left up to the bar owner. It’s not a matter of smokers vs. nonsmokers; it’s a matter of whether businesses can make the decision on their own and patrons can react accordingly. Until the ban is enacted, nobody is being forced to do or endure anything.

          • TimGNO

            If I had to pick the strongest rationale for *not* leaving it up to the bar owners, I’d say it’s because they neither own nor can control the breathable air inside their establishments. Even if all the smokers were to leave immediately before my arrival, I would still be forced to breathe their acrid abomination when I enter (same goes for deliverymen, service personnel, plumbers, kitchen inspectors, phone repair crews, painters, etc.). Or are you suggesting they, too, have the “conscious option” not to work there when summoned?

          • Owen Courrèges


            The bar owner owns the right to be on their property, meaning that they own the right to breathe air on their property (because you can’t breathe air inside a bar without physically being inside a bar). The other classes of persons you speak of are also dealing with the business voluntarily, and most are there only for a brief period which would not involve any significant health risk.

            Look, I understand being anti-smoking, but you can’t spin this into anything other than a restriction on choice and business/property rights.

          • TraveLAr

            Owen, please use your best libertarian wiles and explain for we readers why public accommodation laws, for example, for wheelchairs and all races and creeds, are not also “restrictions on choice and business/property rights.” I agree that health rules are part and parcel of the theory of public accommodation, but I see that as a good thing, not a bad thing.

            I see you addressed this, above, after I posted, and to summarize you said public accommodation is only for federal civil rights and disability, and you said that those are exceptions to property rights. I would point out that the property we are talking about, a business, is licensed by the city and state to do business and serve, protected by public incorporation and LLC laws. They are not licensed by Mr. Rockefeller or Koch Industries, they have Louisiana/city business and occupational licenses that do indeed require certain standards so they can be open to the public. Maintaining clean air standards as set by the local and state authorities seems perfectly proper.

  • disqus_ain7Kk28WZ

    If a smoking ban in bars and casinos results in less money being spent there does it mean that the money lost in those places won’t be spent elsewhere, i.e., in a better place? Maybe a different segment of the economy will get the benefit, some kids could have better clothes and healthier parents.

    • Owen Courrèges


      It might mean some business is lost to bars in Jefferson Parish, which isn’t a better place. Casino patrons may go elsewhere as well; they tend to be willing to travel.

      Irrespectively, do you really think you can legislate virtue this way? Do you honestly think that because people can’t smoke in bars and casinos that they’re going to buy better clothes for their kids? More likely than not, people are probably going to continue using the same amount of money on their vices, only some will spend less of it at local bars and casinos.

      • TraveLAr

        Why is clean indoor air called “virtue”? It’s a simple matter of access for all. And it doesn’t keep anyone out. Smoking in bars keeps nonsmokers out, but clean air in bars does not keep smokers out.

        • Owen Courrèges


          Prohibiting smokers from smoking doesn’t prevent them from going to bars, and allowing smoking in bars doesn’t necessarily prevent nonsmokers from going to bars. It’s not a matter of access, it’s a matter of what’s voluntary and what’s forced. Nobody is being forced to patronize or work for bars that allow smoking. If people don’t like the market decision the owner has made, they’re free to go somewhere else. I’m not sure why that’s a problem.

          • TraveLAr

            Misunderstanding the right of public access has long been a problem in the south. The fact is, these businesses are licensed by the state to serve the public and follow basic health rules. They should not have a “market choice” for sanitation practices, and indoor air quality is such a practice.

          • Owen Courrèges


            The “right of public access” only exists insofar as we’re talking about federal civil rights and disability rights laws (which themselves are actually exceptions to constitutional rights). Those principles don’t apply to being a nonsmoker going into a smoking bar. Businesses are expected to obey basic quality and sanitation rules in the food and drink they serve, but they’re not expected to make sure you don’t make unhealthy choices.

            And if the south doesn’t want the government micromanaging private businesses, I’d say we’re ahead of the curve, not behind it.

          • TraveLAr

            A smoke free indoor air law does not stop those folks you worry about from making their supposed unhealthy smoking choices. You seem to be saying choosing poor health is a choice, and I can’t argue with that. It’s forcing that poor health choice onto other people around them that makes no sense to me, and I support health rules that prevent that.

          • Owen Courrèges


            What I’m saying is that the only thing forcing a “choice” here are anti-smoking laws. Patrons and employees can avoid smoking establishments, and there’s no right to work for or patronize a certain bar. If somebody lights up next to you in a bar, you can move away or leave — nobody’s forcing anybody to sit there and endure it.

        • D. Barrios

          Yes, exactly!

  • frustrated

    Customers can vote with their feet – and/or their pocketbooks
    – and can easily avoid smoke-filled bars or not buy products produced by companies with business practices they view as offensive.

    This is an excellent, perhaps the best, way to protest.

    The problem – and it’s a serious one – is that some, if not
    most, employees don’t have that luxury. Their financial circumstances dictate that they must take the jobs available, even if work conditions are proven to be harmful to their health.

    These workers, especially at casinos, are among the most vulnerable in our society. To put one’s pleasure (smoking) over another person’s health is simply wrong.

  • TraveLAr

    Public health risks should not be on a “permitted” basis. Make the air quality rules equal for all indoor businesses.

  • best_in_show

    Owen: First, I see from the cartoon WHY you became a lawyer.
    Second: You are always going to have some people who want to tell everyone ELSE what to do. If vegans had the clout and power to make decisions for us they would restrict what restaurants could serve meat and even seafood. If I did not want to be around smokers I would simply not go where they are. In all the thirty years I lived in New York (before the smoke police), I never heard ANYONE complain about smoking in bars….EVER. Of course that was twenty years ago and things have dramatically changed. The punitive people are in control now.

    • TraveLAr

      Best, you are correct. Not listening to people who wanted clean indoor air was a problem for many years, but these public access changes have come as health awareness has advanced, and that has been a positive experience for me, now able to go to places I previously had to avoid.

  • Drew Ward

    The problem with trying to frame this in the government taking away a choice is that for the past 500 years, smokers have taken away the choice of non-smokers to not be exposed to the effects of their habit.

    Smokers can choose whether to smoke or not. But any time a smoker chooses to light up, it means everyone else within 50-100 feet of him loses their ability to not smoke.

    I feel for you as a smoker, but really, until smoking is something that is only done within your own home or within your car with the windows up, we’ll never have an actually fair situation for everyone to live in.

    • TraveLAr

      Drew, some people do not recognize that public health on occasion makes some wise advances. Attention to air quality is a good example, that benefits everyone — and still if people want to smoke, they have to just step out for a few minutes to the patio, and they have learned that works.

    • Owen Courrèges


      I’m not a smoker, and as I see it, the issue is that nobody is being forced to expose themselves to a smoking environment. The bar owner can choose whether or not to make his business a smoking environment, and customers and employees can react to that however they want. The only compulsion involved here is the compulsion that results from a smoking ban. Everything else is voluntary.

      As I said, I patronize smoking establishments and sometimes it really bothers me. But that’s my choice. It’s not my bar and not my property.

      • Static50

        I too am not a smoker. Whenever I am in an establishment that allows smoking then I assume whatever risks and inconveniences that come with my decision. But here is the larger question/point;
        If all of the anti smokers truly were concerned, and especially if all the politicians out to look out for my “well being” were that concerned about our health and others’ rights, then all efforts should be made to ban tobacco, which is still legal, and that would be the end to it.
        But anybody knows why this will never happen, and its
        not because of the “Big Tobacco” lobby. Its because governments, from city, to state, to the federal are more addicted to the revenue stream that comes with tobacco sales more so than the smokers themselves who have some degree of addiction to the nicotine. Anybody who believes that the majority of the money spent on a pack of cigarettes goes to the “Big Tobacco” company as opposed to all of the governments whose revenue streams have become so dependent on the taxes and fees are delusional.
        It has always seemed comical to hear politicians talk about raising taxes on tobacco to dedicate to healthcare and education (which of course never happens) on a substance they claim to be so harmful.
        Only those people we elect and who act as though they care so much “for our children” would want to raise the tax so high that nobody would continue to buy them, hence eliminating the revenue altogether.
        Thats a winning business model.
        I know, I know, if all smokers stopped it would lower costs of healthcare, etc. Right. The self righteous who seem to care so much will stop at nothing to take away our liberties and freedoms. Next up, of course, is McDonald’s and Popeye’s.

        • TraveLAr

          All people should do is follow laws that restrict smoking indoors in public places. There is no reason to ban whatever they want to do to themselves.

  • TraveLAr

    If places want to serve me with food borne illness, the free market should prevail, and I can go somewhere that does not have food borne illness. Employees too. It’s the owner’s right to run the place as he likes.

  • Owen, you make some interesting arguments, but as a reader, I’ll put in my 2 cents… 1) Equating bars as casinos because they have a few video poker machines is a bit over the top, IMHO. 2) Until we have full employment, non-smoking jobseekers may feel a need to obtain & keep a job in a smoking establishment, simply in order to make ends meet… So, 20 years down the road, when they wind up with emphysema, you & I may wind up paying for their care via premium support. Of course, there are exceptions for higher premiums for smokers on most policies (including Obamacare). I, for one, think some of these issues might be resolved via a set-aside fund for sick ex-employees, or higher business insurance premiums for employers with unhealthy working conditions. I have a non-smoking office, and I wonder if my current liability premiums are paying for the lawsuits Dos Jefes will experience from lung cancer former employee claims in the year 2020. 3) You seem quick to assume that politicians who seek increased regulation are nanny-state bureaucrats, as opposed to genuine advocates of the public good, which may, of course, be the case in many instances. But what about those brave, libertarian politicians opposing various regulations supposedly to safeguard our freedoms? Perhaps some of them are politicians seeking to curry favor (& campaign contributions) from affected industries. I enjoy your columns although I may not always agree with them. The more civil public discourse, the better, as I see it.

  • Owen Courrèges


    Employees do have the luxury to work elsewhere. Again, there are over a hundred nonsmoking bars in the city. There are also countless other service industry jobs in nonsmoking environments. If an employee likes their job enough to where they accept the trade-off of working in a smoking establishment, that’s a voluntary decision. I don’t see any reason to ban smoking to protect workers — like customers, they have other options.

    In any event, if banning smoking cuts into revenues (and it does severely with casinos) you can expect some people in the service industry to wind up out of work anyway, especially with respect to those businesses that rely heavily on smoking patrons.

    • frustrated

      The job market is tight, a fact that may have escaped
      you. Therefore, your justification is without merit.

      Hazardous working conditions should be everyone’s concern, consumers as well as workers, and is an important issue for the government to address. We are not living in the 19th century.

      • Owen Courrèges


        There are generally a healthy number of bartending jobs available. That’s not one of the tighter markets, and even if it were, the field is not so specialized and rife with barriers to entry that a person could not elect to pursue some other type of work. In any case, it’s still a voluntary act. I think my justification has a great amount of merit.

        As for the “hazardous working conditions,” I’d say that’s a bit of an overstatement. Second-hand smoke certainly isn’t good for you, but it’s very unlikely to cause any health problems. I think many are purposely exaggerating the risks involved here.

        • Guest

          Says the man who hasn’t watched 2 people die of asthma attacks.

        • frustrated

          This is tiresome and getting more than a little childish. Let’s agree we disagree. You have strong views, based on careful thought, and so do I.

    • TraveLAr

      Maybe the casino industry is in trouble for other reasons, Owen, and they are fishing around for somebody to blame.

      “As casino expansion reaches its limits, the towns and cities that turned to gambling to escape their problems may discover that they have accepted a sucker’s bet: local economies that look worse than ever, local residents tempted into new forms of self-destructive behavior, and a dwindling flow of cash to show for it all.”
      — The Atlantic

      • Owen Courrèges


        If the casino industry is already in trouble, that’s all the more reason not to pile on.

        • TraveLAr

          If the gambling industry complains that it can’t make it in business and also follow public health policies that are beneficial to all their customers and that every other convention industry in the state manages to follow, I’d be really suspicious of what the gambling industry is telling us.

          • Owen Courrèges


            Oh sure, they can “make it” in some sense but they’ll be hobbled by a 20% drop in revenue. It’s detrimental to their business and it only benefits those customers who are actually bothered by smoking in casinos. They come by their opposition honestly.

    • Patrick

      Should we get rid of minimum wage and other legislation that protects workers? According to your logic employees like their jobs enough to accept employment, so why should a business owner be forced to compensate at a certain rate or follow procedures that ensure the worker’s safety?

    • UncommonSense100

      “There are also countless other service industry jobs in nonsmoking environments.”

      I think perhaps Owen doesn’t know what it’s like to be poor/lower middle class and struggling for employment in NOLA. It’s a practical joke if you think there’s is just a plethora of options when it comes to nonsmoking service industry jobs. It’s disgraceful for you say there are countless numbers of them. This lack of awareness of poverty is absolutely astonishing and disgusting. When you are uneducated (due to our horrible public school system), when you are unskilled (due to our lack of reasonably priced trade schools with efficient job placements), when the city you lives in relies heavily on tourism… you do what you can. As a fellow attorney who struggled in NOLA when I first started out, I had to apply to more places than I can remember to land a bartending gig despite having nearly a decade of experience. I had loans to pay and very few choices when it came to finding work that was outside the meager contract or low level associate pay I was receiving in my early years.

      • Angie Peckham


      • Owen Courrèges


        That’s strong language for a person commenting anonymously. One might call it a bit cowardly, particularly for a “fellow attorney.” If you aren’t willing to put your name to your words, perhaps you should display a tad more humility when confronting somebody who does.

        In any event, I stand by what I said. It was neither “disgraceful” nor “disgusting.” There are relatively few barriers to entry in the service industry and in a city like New Orleans, there are a large number of jobs. How many are open at any given time depends upon market conditions, but nobody is being forced to stay in the same job in a smoking environment indefinitely. There are over 100 nonsmoking bars in the city and all restaurants are nonsmoking. Consequently, there are now more nonsmoking service jobs than there are smoking jobs. Perhaps that wasn’t the case when you were tending bar, but it is now.

        If a nonsmoker is earning good money at a smoking bar and chooses to stay rather than seek out potentially less lucrative employment elsewhere, they’re accepting the trade-off — they’re not being forced to do anything.

        Finally, I ran this issue by several people I know in the service industry before and after writing this column, and anecdotally I find the pro-smoking-ban viewpoint to be in the minority. If bartenders widely feel trapped in smoking environments and are yearning for the protective hand of the city to save them, I’m not hearing about it.

        • UncommonSense100

          Instead of staying on point, you go after my anonymity to try to undermine my credibility. And yes, it wasn’t the case when I was bartending, but I still stand by the fact that you lack awareness on the topic. Am I supposed to take your word that you spoke to “several people” in the industry? It’s not an issue of feeling trapped. Everyone who works in the industry makes the calculated decision whether the money is worth the damage to their health, but with the economy how it is, especially in NOLA, the balance of that equation is heavily skewered due to poverty. I’m sure the “several people” you spoke to aren’t bartending in a tiny bar in the 7th Ward, East, Central City, nor Gentilly struggling to make ends meet. Are you talking to non-smokers in financially compromised positions or are you keeping it to your college kid smokers who bartend uptown?

          • Owen Courrèges


            >>Instead of staying on point, you go after my anonymity to try to undermine my credibility.<>[I]t wasn’t the case when I was bartending, but I still stand by the fact that you lack awareness on the topic.<<

            And from where does your awareness come? It sounds like you tended bar back when smoking was allowed everywhere and there were very few nonsmoking bars. A major part of my thesis here was that the market has shifted and that there are now plenty of nonsmoking bars. Accordingly, there are far more nonsmoking options out there in the job market.

            You said my opinion in that regard was "disgraceful." I maintain it's correct, and you've given me no reason to think differently. And now you've slandered Uptown bartenders. Good job.

        • UncommonSense100

          And yeah, it’s strong language because you’re the type of person who jumps to hyperbole in your language. Countless jobs? Get a grip on reality, Owen.

          • Owen Courrèges


            It’s not hyperbole; “countless” is typically used as a synonym for “very many.” There are a lot of them and it would be hard to pin down a precise number.

            In any event, as I said before, hiding behind a handle should inspire humility. If you’re not going to name yourself, at least have the decency to restrain yourself.

  • best_in_show

    “Choice”…there’s the rub (as the great bard would say). When we have no choice, what’s next? Martial Law? That is what we have now in many places that traditionally were “reserved” for certain kinds of relaxation, bars, especially. If I owned a bar I would certainly resent being forced to abide by someone else’s personal edict that has nothing to do with how I CHOOSE to run by business. If you are opposed to drinking don’t go to my bar and complain about my serving alcohol. Maybe a good solution would be to allow all bars to be private clubs with membership for those who either want to smoke or NOT. We still respect private property, do we not?

    • TraveLAr

      Health rules are martial law. Ye God, then what are traffic rules? Imprisonment? I drive a truck, I choose which way I go on a street and whether I will stop or not, because my truck is private property. That’s what you’re saying. In fact, health rules should be equally applied.

  • If the bar owner can choose whether or not to make his business a smoking environment, can the bar owner also continue to serve alcohol to someone who can’t even stand up because he/she drank too much?

    Would it be OK for the bar to continue to serve someone more and more alcohol while clearly seeing the patron can’t even walk straight or barely stand up? What about the bar that isn’t willing, or too busy, to call a cab for a patron who can’t even walk straight? Would not calling a cab for a drunk patron also be a FREE MARKET CHOICE by the bar owner?

    • best_in_show

      AhContraire: Correct me if I am wrong, but was not there a period when all bar employees had to take a seminar and test about dangerously drunk patrons who left the bar and caused an accident? The bartender would then be liable for serving that person too much booze. Maybe that is no longer a requirement. Just askin’……

  • TraveLAr

    If the VEGANS had the power!

    There is some weird defensive fright floating around some people about the scary vegans, isn’t there. Sarah Palin last week:

    “We believe—wait, I thought, fast food joints? Eh, don’t you guys think that … they’re like of the devil, or something? That’s what … liberals … you wanna send those evil employees who dare work at a fast food joint that you just don’t believe in, thought you wanted to, I don’t know, send them to purgatory, or something … so they all go vegan … and uh … wages and picket lines, I don’t know, they’re not often discussed in purgatory, are they?”

    Note: Hold on, this is waiting to be approved by Uptown Messenger.

  • Owen Courrèges

    Grant Cooper,

    >>Equating bars as casinos because they have a few video poker machines is a bit over the top[.]<>Until we have full employment, non-smoking jobseekers may feel a need to obtain & keep a job in a smoking establishment, simply in order to make ends meet[.]<>20 years down the road, when they wind up with emphysema, you & I may wind up paying for their care via premium support[.]<<

    You do know that's unbelievably unlikely. Also, let's not even introduce the notion of the public paying healthcare bills. The truth is that people who die at younger ages of tobacco-related illness tend to use fewer public health dollars than those who stick around to old age. However, that doesn't mean we should be encouraging smoking, either — it just shouldn't enter this calculus because it's speculative and too far removed, to say nothing of the moral implications.

    • Smoking, drinking, gambling…wow, what a combination for increasing social services.

  • Owen Courrèges


    I disagree. We’re not talking about discrimination or an inability to serve nonsmoking patrons; we’re talking about patrons who don’t like smoke being bothered by being in a smoking establishment. I’m not saying that the law is somehow unconstitutional, but I am saying that it’s unwise and unnecessary. Moreover, regardless of whether you support anti-smoking laws as a policy matter, they aren’t analogous to anti-discrimination/disability access laws or purity and sanitation laws.

    • Patrick

      Seems to me its totally analogous. There are a wide range of safety codes that venues must follow for the health of their patrons and employees. It’s not optional for a bar to cut corners on health codes. Safely breathable air is a sensible thing to require, hard to make the argument that its unwise or unnecessary. Smokers can use e-cigs if they want and bars can set up a separate smoking area. Then people will be truly free to choose whether they want to smoke or not.

      • generalsn

        Most recent bans include e-cigs.

    • TraveLAr

      It’s not that humans “don’t like” tobacco smoke. The problem is, it is unhealthy. See

      Owen, you have frequently referred to the St. Louis Federal Reserve as a study that proves that nonsmoking reduces casino revenue. Even that study said two interesting things. First it has this important disclaimer: on page 25:

      “The economic effects of the Smoke Free Illinois Act —specifically with regard to casino revenue and government tax receipts — represent only part of the Act’s overall impact. In a full analysis, these effects need to be considered alongside costs and benefits, including the public health benefits of the legislation.”

      And then at page 8, they recognize there could be other casino issues that they have to estimate, and their result is just that. An estimate making all kinds of assumptions.

      “One confounding issue with estimating the effects of the smoking ban is that the timing of the ban coincides with a general economic downturn.”

      The recent Atlantic article — — argues that casinos on their own, nothing to do with smoking, have been poor policy choices that are bad for the community. And on top of that, people want to defend them harming the health of the public? The time is long past to claim that tobacco smoke is not an important health issue. You put it as if people are “bothered” by tobacco smoke. The fact is, they get heart attacks, emphysema, cancer, and other illness from it. The health and sanitation codes are exactly where this regulation belongs.

      • Owen Courrèges


        It’s certainly true that the Federal Reserve study couldn’t compensate for every variable and it was completely up front about that. However, their conclusions still stand and they make logical sense as well.

        I’m not even going to get into whether casinos and gambling are bad in general sense and ought to be banned — that’s beyond the scope of what I’m trying to argue.

  • pgandh01

    Mr. Courreges – I wouldn’t underestimate the downstream health consequences of secondhand smoke (SHS). As a pediatrician, I have seen firsthand the effect of SHS on asthmatics not to mention the very real impact on vasculature seen in utero.

    Additionally – you later comment below about the minimal effect on workers. You say, “As for the “hazardous working conditions,” I’d say that’s a bit of an overstatement. Second-hand smoke certainly isn’t good for you, but it’s very unlikely to cause any health problems.” Unfortunately, your statement is false and the data covers the gamut of cardiovascular / respiratory / endocrinology effects of SHS.

    I’d refer you to a few sources:
    1. Worldwide burden of disease from exposure to second-hand smoke: a retrospective analysis of data from 192 countries – The Lancet 2011
    2. Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Cardiovascular Effects – CDC 2009
    3. Children and Secondhand Smoke: Clear Evidence for Action – Pediatrics, 2012.

    Let’s have a good natured debate on the economic impact of a smoking ban – but – the evidence is very clear, SHS has a clear and long-term consequence on the health of the fetus, infant, child, adolescent, and adult.


  • TraveLAr

    West Viginia article ”

    “West Virginia Casinos Racking Up Losses to Ohio’s (Smoke-Free) Facilities”

    …In press reports regarding Mountaineer Casino in Chester and Wheeling Island Casino and Racetrack in Wheeling, WV both cite competition from Ohio as a key factor in the drops in revenue. The West Virginia casinos attempting to use the loss of business as a tool to leverage lower tax rates and fees from the legislature.

    Wheeling Island expects to lose $1 million on table games and revenue at Mountaineer Casino is off over 15% ($8.8 million) according to media accounts.

    There is one fact casino management officials are not telling legislators, or the public, as they “sing the blues” in an attempt to reduce the state’s take of gambling proceeds:


    In 2005, Ohio’s took the bold step to make public places in Ohio smoke free. Ohioans recognized the impact of secondhand smoke on employees and on the public. By making public places smoke free, Ohioans sought to reduce the negative health impacts from heart disease, stroke, lung disease, asthma and cancer from secondhand smoke.

    All Ohio casinos are completely smoke free. In addition, the casinos in Toledo and Columbus are hiring only tobacco-free employees.

    Interestingly enough, West Virginia Lottery Director John Musgrave told the Senate Finance Committee this past Monday that the Mardi Gras Casino in Nitro had done far better than the Northern Panhandle in keeping business even with the new competition from Ohio. While Musgrave gave credit to the Nitro resort’s location off of I-64 what he failed to note was that Mardi Gras is the only SMOKE-FREE casino in West Virginia….

    • Owen Courrèges

      Color me skeptical. I’ll take the Federal Reserve’s study over an article from “Tobacco Free West Virginia” any day.

      As for the substance, I won’t deny that other economic factors are in play here. You need to try and control for relevant variables when possible. The Federal Reserve study did that, looking closely at the figures, and admitting potential shortcomings. I think they reached their conclusions objectively and honestly.

  • RRod3

    “Second-hand smoke certainly isn’t good for you, but it’s very unlikely to cause any health problems. I think many are purposely exaggerating the risks involved here.”

    Wrong, and it’s not even close.

  • Owen Courrèges


    The analogy is poor. Having sanitation codes for the products you are actually serving is different from banning smoking. It’s restraining what your customers do as opposed to simply providing a safe and sanitary product.

    In any event, this ban probably isn’t going to allow for separate smoking areas and it isn’t going to exempt establishments where smoking is a primary part of their business (like cigar bars and hookah lounges). Thus, the analogy breaks down further and further the deeper you get.

  • Owen Courrèges


    There has to be a balance between protecting workers and serving customers, obviously, but even that balance is informed by the fact that you’re dealing with a voluntary economic relationship. If you’re basically saying that an employees needs and preferences should radically alter, or even destroy your business model, that’s going too far.

  • UncommonSense100

    People in New Orleans go to bars to drink. They go to see music. They go to see performances. They go to eat bar food. They go to socialize. People with addictive personalities who gravitate towards sitting in one place and engaging in vices that provide them a short term positive feed back loop with long term damages go to casinos. The smoke free bar scene in 28 states that ban smoking indoors are fantastic and they lack the entertainment and food we have.

  • Gaston

    It is interesting to see commenters here denying bar proprietors the choice of allowing smoking were equally vocal about allowing women the choice to deny life in the discussion following the recent UM article on the Planned Parenthood protests. As a faithful Catholic, if things were only up to me I would not allow abortion; it is the killing of many innocents, yet as a member of a diverse and free society I would likewise not deny others their lawful personal choice, even if they are in the minority.

    On the matter of smoking, let the bar owners, their workers, and their patrons choose who they wish to associate with and not a government and a tyranny of the majority. If a bar is too full of miscreants or too loud or too dirty or too smoky or … for my tastes I will simply not patronize it.

  • Owen Courrèges


    I don’t deny that certain sensitive persons may have far more severe health consequences from exposure to second-hand smoke, but I’ve looked over the literature and I believe that for the average adult (and kids aren’t the ones going to bars, I hope), the health consequences are generally overstated.

    For example, in an earlier column on this subject I observed that the Surgeon General advises that living with a smoker increases lifetime cancer risk by something like 20-30%, which is less than the risk posed by regularly drinking too many servings of milk.

    There is an association between passive smoking and several diseases, but it’s generally among the lower-level risk factors. So while I’m not denying that there isn’t an actual, significant health risk, I am saying that the same people concerned with second-hand smoke probably blithely do any number of things that increase their risk by an equal amount. We just need perspective on this.

  • Owen Courrèges


    Also, I’d cite this quote from a recent article in Forbes:

    “I called Gerard Silvestri of the Medical University of South Carolina and member of the National Cancer Institute’s Screening and Prevention Board, and he said the study merely confirms what many researchers already believed.

    “What this study basically showed is what people kind of knew already: At low passive exposures the risk is not that great,” he said. “While that’s good news, it shouldn’t stop anyone from saying, “I don’t want to be a in a bar or any place else with someone who is smoking.””

    I think that’s a fair assessment. When you’re talking about “low passive exposures,” you’re not dealing with a high risk factor. A person still may justifiably not want to tolerate even that risk, or they may just find the smoke very unpleasant, but to portray it as a major and serious risk to individual health is simply overstating.

  • Smoke free?
    Not regulated or rules not enforced and smokers will take all outside the bar and convert City sidewalks into a free smoke zone.
    What about a ban on banning?…

  • Tim9lives

    Ban smoking ?? Well…it’s bad for you. But wait, so is alcohol. Alcohol is bad for one’s health. And what about all the recovering alcoholics? Maybe they feel offended and tempted by the alcohol sale occurring in bars.

    Maybe we should ban cigarettes and alcohol in bars.

  • Owen Courrèges


    If passive smoking is a high-risk factor for disease as opposed to a low-risk factor, I’d like to see the data. Again, I’m not saying that it poses no health risk; I’m just saying that in the doses we’re talking about, it’s very unlikely to cause an individual any health problems.

  • Rachel Sonn

    I agree with some of your points, (and yes, smoking is definitely being demonized rather extensively of late) but nonetheless think it’s inevitable that the ban eventually occur – and will be a positive. Cigarettes are, in fact, extremely addictive, and are, in fact, horrible for those who smoke them. There are people such as bartenders who are subjected to a lot of second-hand smoke whether they like it or not. And making it less convenient to smoke will mean that less people smoke, which would be good. (It will ALSO mean that when I go out for a drink I won’t have to shower before sleeping so my hair doesn’t make my pillow stink, and that would be good too.)

  • TraveLAr


    Objective Many studies demonstrated a decline in hospital admissions for cardiovascular diseases after the implementation of a smoking ban, but evidence for reductions in cardiovascular mortality is more limited. In Belgium, smoke-free legislation was implemented in different phases. Public places and most workplaces became smoke-free in January 2006, whereas the legislative ban on smoking in restaurants was introduced in January 2007. These successive steps in legislation provided us the opportunity to investigate possible stepwise changes in fatal acute myocardial infarction (AMI) rates.

    Methods Data on all AMI deaths of 30 years of age or older in Flanders (Belgium) between 2000 and 2009 (n=38 992) were used. Age-standardised AMI death rates were analysed with segmented Poisson regression allowing for secular trends, seasonality, temperature, PM10 and influenza.

    Results An immediate decrease in AMI mortality rates was observed in January 2006 (smoking ban at work). The effect was highest for women younger than 60 years of age (-33.8%; 95% CI -49.6 to -13.0), compared with an effect of -13.1% (95% CI -24.3 to -0.3) for male counterparts. Estimates for the elderly (?60 years) were -9.0% (95% CI -14.1 to -3.7) for men and 7.9% (95% CI -13.5 to -2.0) for women. An additional effect of the smoking ban in restaurants was observed for elderly men, with an annual slope change of -3.8% (95% CI -6.5 to -1.0) after 1 January 2007.

    Conclusions Smoking ban interventions are associated with reductions in the population rate of myocardial mortality, with public health gains even before and during the middle-aged period of life.

  • TraveLAr

    There is growing awareness that this is a public health issue, though the Reason Foundation (see ) and its advocate Owen, not surprisingly dispute the medical evidence.

    A day later, I don’t see the reference I posted here to a medical heart journal article. Just in case it got overlooked in the Uptown Messenger queuing system, abstract found at:

    Conclusions Smoking ban interventions are associated with reductions in the population rate of myocardial mortality, with public health
    gains even before and during the middle-aged period of life.

    • Owen Courrèges


      You do realize that “smoking bans” as studied also necessarily reduce first-hand smoke because smokers can no longer smoke at work or in any other places where the ban is in effect. The study doesn’t necessarily show anything about the impact of second-hand smoke. I still maintain that while it is certainly a risk factor for disease, it is among the lower risk factors.

      • TraveLAr

        Nah, they go outside to smoke. You as a nonsmoker may not have dealt with the addictive factor, but with a background in economics you will recognize why cigarettes sales are considered relatively inelastic. That’s why I scoff at any move to ban cigarettes. But, I have seen removing smoking from indoor public places (that is, licensed to serve the public) to have positive benefits in line with the mission of state and local health departments.

      • Quint

        Is the purpose of the comments section to provide an opportunity for the author to refute every comment he doesn’t agree with?

  • I think the pro-ban posters here are missing a point: the danger of banning things unnecessarily.

    The market is taking the bars toward some allowing smoking, some not. The trend is toward not.

    The analogies with health standards for food are misplaced. No food establishment is going to put up a sign saying it intentionally observes low standards of cleanliness and customers risk illness if they eat there. A bar that allows smoking is seen to do so. The customer has the same choice as the bar owner. Since what is under discussion is a ban, the employees have already chosen to work in a bar that permits smoking. The bar owner is not springing a new risk on people.

    Strip or topless is another poor analogy. There is no risk to anyone. Most of the fuss comes from a history of prudishness in Anglo-America. There was probably a lot less of it in the Colonial and Creole periods.

    Some destination bars might be okay with a ban. You go there for a couple of hours for the music or something. Smokers can get through a couple of hours without a cigarette. But neighborhood bars that function as a local, as an alternative living room, can be driven out of business. It happened in England and Scotland. People still drink – they just stay home and play video games while they drink and smoke, replacing social activity with isolation. Let the bars choose to suit their business. The trend is away from smoking anyway – let evolution do it.

    There are a lot of things we shouldn’t do. Sugar is doing as much damage as tobacco. Fizzy drinks are shortening life expectancy, according to some as much as smoking, but few favored Bloomberg’s soda limitation. Inattentive driving kills thousands. You can see the damage of America’s gun addiction every weekend in the news. It is not logical to single out one thing, smoking, and say that must be banned, while so many other lethal activities are protected.

    And don’t let our council members get used to banning things. It won’t end well.