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NW LA trails state in curbing harmful smoking impact

Attention now turns to northwest Louisiana as the last major holdout in the state to affirming the rights of nonsmokers, likely in response to an overblown fear of loss of casino revenues.

With a proposed ordinance backed by a majority of its Metropolitan Council, Baton Rouge soon looks to become the next major metropolitan area in the state to ban smoking essentially in any indoor place of commerce (except for some hotel rooms and smoke shops), including outdoor attachments to these, in some other outdoor spaces, and e-cigarettes included. When it happens, this will leave as the only major cities left in the state without a city or parish ordinance doing the same (in order of population) Shreveport, Lake Charles, Bossier City, and Kenner.

Not coincidentally, these cities house 10 of the 15 riverboat casinos in the state, and Shreveport/Bossier and Lake Charles monthly duel to have the largest market. Including the land-based casino, New Orleans, which banned smoking in this manner almost a year ago, as a market including the Kenner boat trails, and Baton Rouge takes in the smallest amount of revenue.

While the debate over limiting smoking in places to which the public has access often has its defenders couch it in terms of letting people do what they want – smoke or to allow smoking in their businesses – the better argument rests with opponents when they point out that paramountcy of the liberties of those harmed by smoke and vapors. Why should the ability to engage in or permit a voluntary activity take precedence over the ability of people who involuntarily suffer from diseases aggravated by their encountering fouled air from participating in commerce? In the same way that people with disabilities often faced insurmountable obstacles in ordinary commercial interaction before the Americans with Disabilities Act mandated minor changes, people impaired with pulmonary and other maladies (some former smokers) should not face restrictions in commercial activity – and especially in employment opportunities.

Concerning this issue for smokers, often they object because they do not wish to curtail their habit even for relatively short periods. However, hospitality business owners typically oppose smoking bans applied to their establishments out of fears of losing revenue. The most recent and comprehensive research suggests they misplace such apprehensions, in that smoke-free laws had no significant impact on restaurant and bar revenues.

But the casino business may possess different dynamics. The land-based Harrah’s Casino objected the most to the New Orleans law, but almost a year later the change’s impact seems trivial. While its revenues declined nearly three percent year-over-year, the market itself fell four percent, although the Kenner boat dropped only a bit over one percent. This seems in line with the most recent research the effect of smoking bans on casino revenues, which appear to have a small but significant negative impact. Analysts believe the result stems from the highly interactive nature of the behaviors – smoking and gambling – emanating from the same personality trait of propensity towards addiction.

Yet even if minor revenue losses may occur at casinos – and at bars which have video draw poker devices – as a result of a ban, that does not justify trading the liberty of those injured by or who find their liberty curtailed from smoking in exchange for those profits. If it seems a case of competing liberties in conflict – smokers and owners versus those irritated if not put into distress by others’ smoking – then it only makes sense that the minority that engage in or countenance the voluntary behavior yield to the majority that either involuntarily must bear the consequences of the minority’s actions or have their liberties restricted compared to that minority’s.

Since about a decade ago when state law changed to banish indoor smoking mostly only to entities primarily operating as bars and gambling establishments or to outdoor areas of restaurants that serve alcohol, none of Shreveport, Bossier City, Caddo, or Bossier Parishes even has attempted to enact more restrictive smoking ordinances. Valuing liberty and expressing decency dictates that any or all of them reverse that reluctance to protect the vulnerable and to enhance the life prospects of the disadvantaged.

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