Bogalusa passes comprehensive smoking ban

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Bogalusa City Council passed a comprehensive smoking ban Tuesday night.

The ban outlaws smoking in all public buildings and private clubs.

Bogalusa is now the 10th city in the state to pass such a ban.

Council members said it was a tough vote and it almost didn’t happen. However, after first proposing the ban and then offering to table it, Councilwoman Gloria Kates pressed forward and asked for a vote. The ordinance passed unanimously.

However, Kates also asked that the city not immediately enforce the ban in bars, which are perhaps the only public establishments in Bogalusa that allow indoor smoking.

Nevertheless, the ordinance drew swift praise from a statewide group, the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living (TFL).

In a press release issued hours after the vote, TFL director Tonia Moore praised the decision.

“This ordinance is about protecting the health for all in Bogalusa, plain and simple,” Moore said. “Everyone in Bogalusa has a right to breathe clean air and I applaud the Bogalusa Council for their courage in passing this ordinance.”

Moore was in the audience Tuesday evening, as were other smoke-free advocates, including the Washington Parish Youth Council. Teenaged members of the organization addressed the council before the vote and they argued that a smoking ban would improve overall health in Washington Parish.

Moore spoke to the council just prior to the vote on the ordinance. She said that in other Louisiana cities that have passed similar ordinances, restaurants and bars have noticed no decline in revenue and typically new clientele will frequent the formerly smoky businesses while not losing any of the existing clientele.

She pointed to Alexandria as an example.

“Their businesses are still thriving,” she said. “The sky didn’t fall.”

The ban would not cover outdoor areas, and Moore said the ban would just require smokers to duck out to smoke their cigarettes.

“We’re just asking people to step outside,” she told the council.

Nevertheless, Kates seemed prepared to table the ban. Council Vice President Doug Ritchie was absent from the meeting and she said she’d feel better if everyone could vote on the ordinance. Kates said she’d been talking to bar owners, and she understood the issue was sensitive, and wanted everyone on the board to have a chance to weigh in.

However, it was local, community support for the ban that pushed the ban forward.

Charlotte Fornea, who is with Adapt: Washington Parish Coalition Against Drugs, said fewer youth are smoking, so fewer youth will go into smoke-filled bars. She also noted that it’s not reasonable to expect non-smokers to have to put up with smoke-filled bars.

This is not the first time a ban has come before the council, and Marvin Austin, a former council member, spoke up and talked about his own changing opinion on the ban.

Austin said that when he was on the council, he voted against a smoking ban because he thought people should have the freedom to do what they wanted. However, he said, people can make bad decisions and he said allowing public smoking posed a real health risk that the city should not allow.

“You can put a gun to your head and pull the trigger,” he said. “Life is precious.”

He pointed out that he and his wife are former smokers and he’s watched many of his friends and family get sick and in some cases die from smoking-related illnesses.

“If you pass this ordinance, you’ll be doing a great public good,” he said.

After Austin spoke, Kates seemed to have a change of heart about tabling the ordinance and she called the matter a “hard decision” before re-introducing it before the council.

The ordinance passed unanimously.

Council member Brian McCree, a smoker, even supported the measure and he added that he had planned to vote “no” until he heard from the community.

“I did say I’m for the kids, you know, so I vote ‘aye,’” he said.

The youths in attendance clapped after the vote, and Kates suggested a six-month phase in period, although no details are immediately available.