Newsmaker of the Week: Smoke-free East Baton Rouge

After months of hand-wringing, Baton Rouge finally passed a ban on smoking in bars and casinos this week, joining Lafayette, New Orleans and an increasing number of other U.S. cities.

Bar and casino owners saw the writing on the wall early on in the process at the Metro Council, and successfully bought some time before the ban goes into effect. Citing the city’s backed up permitting process, among other things, businesspeople convinced the bipartisan group of council members to wait until next June to implement the ordinance.

New Orleans banned smoking in bars and casinos in 2015, to the chagrin of the gaming community there. Despite Baton Rouge casino owners citing New Orleans as a horror story for their bottom lines, a group of five Democrats and two Republicans—Barbara Freiberg and Matt Watson—on the Metro Council here passed the ban on Wednesday. The vote came after the proposal almost died earlier this summer due to technical issues and questions over when to implement it.

Last year, the Metro Council killed the smoke ban on a 6-6 vote. But two councilmembers who voted against the proposal—Ryan Heck and John Delgado—were replaced with “yes” votes in Watson and Freiberg, respectively, this year.

With those council members, along with a new mayor, the push gained traction this spring. Health advocates dedicated to banning smoking have said the new ordinance will protect some 3,000 local workers from secondhand smoke.

“While I am disappointed that our council is not swiftly enacting this ordinance to protect health, I am excited for the future of our city,” says Coletta Barrett, mission leader at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. “Today we celebrate a historic win for the health of all of Baton Rouge’s workforce.”

—Sam Karlin

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