Consider smoking ban in city

Published 7:52 am Friday, September 30, 2016

Last week I had the pleasure of going to see a local singer-songwriter at a Bogalusa bar. The music was great and the people were friendly but, even so, I don’t know if I’ll go back because, as soon as I stepped outside, I realized I was bathed in a coating of nicotine.

I am not so young as to be unable to recall the days when you would be able to walk through a mall with a lit cigarette in hand, but these days I’d assumed indoor smoking had pretty much gone the way of leaded gasoline. Certainly both are known public health hazards.

In a state where heart disease is a leading cause of death, you might expect more from public officials than a pass on public usage of a product known to cause heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is strong evidence that smoke-free laws do decrease incidents of heart disease.

The CDC also reports that another study discovered, after Scotland passed a comprehensive smoke free ban in 2006, the country saw a nearly immediate improvement in the health of non-smoking bar workers. Within two months, the CDC reports, nonsmokers reported less coughing and shortness of breath, better lung function and a better quality of life for those with asthma.

As someone with asthma, I can sympathize with those employees. I am fortunate in that I don’t have to go out. I mean, I like live music and I like to support local artists, but when it leads to an evening of breathing difficulty, my choice is clear: I’ll stay in.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to have to work around cigarette smoke just to get a paycheck.

Ironically, nonsmokers usually outnumber smokers. They certainly did last week when I went out. I think maybe only three or four people were smoking in a crowded bar, but even so, the air was thick with tobacco.

I have been through smoke-free fights in two cities now. First in Corpus Christi, Texas, my hometown, and then in Clarksdale, in Mississippi. Both times, bar and restaurant owners complained that a smoking ban would hurt their business. I found that weird, because I’ve never heard of any smokers boycotting the grocery store, any retail store or movie theaters because of their smoking bans, but never mind such easily observable proof.

In fact, we now know through objective study that smoking bans do not hurt businesses. In 2013, the CDC published the results of a survey of the effect of smoke-free laws in nine states and found there to be no economic impact one way or another after the laws were introduced in most states. The only example to the contrary — West Virginia — showed a “significant increase” in bar and restaurant employment. A 2004 peer-reviewed study actually found an increase in revenue for businesses after bans were passed because smoke-free venues are, on average, sold at a 16 percent higher profit than smoking venues.

This makes sense. Anecdotally, I heard from parents in Clarksdale after that city passed its ban who were happy to be able to take their families out to see live music, so it’s easy to see why smoke-free venues would be more desirable.

It would take perhaps millions of dollars to fix everything in Bogalusa.

But, if the city is looking to clean up its image, attract more local spending and improve public health, a smoke-free ordinance is a free first step.