Bar customers split on smoking ban concern

Published 4:51 am Saturday, December 24, 2016

Wednesday night was like any other at Union Square.

Five people sat around the bar. Four more sat around a table. They talked, they sipped beer or daiquiris and most of them were smoking. The smoke hung in the air, illuminated faintly by the neon beer signs along the wall.

The scene could have been at any bar in town on almost any given night of the year. Soon, however, if the city follows through with a new ban the council passed on Tuesday, that cigarette smoke might be gone. While the council did unanimously pass the ordinance, Councilwoman Gloria Kates, who introduced it, said she didn’t want it enforced for a few months. 

But, if and when it is enforced, the feeling among some of the smokers at Union Station was: It’s about time.

One man, who asked not to be named in the story, said he didn’t smoke except when he was drinking, so he didn’t mind stepping outside to indulge.

While the new law bans smoking inside every public building and private club, smoking outdoors is still legal.

“If it bothers people, I’ll smoke outside,” he said. “I don’t care.”

Another woman, Lisa Perrin, said the ban might actually be a good thing for her.

“I’m trying to quit anyway,” she said. “I only smoke when I drink anyway, and I’m mad at myself because I lost my husband two years ago.”

Perrin said that in the last five years of his life, her husband suffered from emphysema and other smoking-related illnesses, so she knows she should quit.

Union Station owner James Barber expressed equanimity about the new law. He said there is a reason he didn’t show up to the city meeting to protest one way or another.

“It’s a catch-22 for me,” he said. “I can’t win regardless.”

Barber isn’t a smoker, but if he said he supported the law, smokers would complain. If he supported it, non-smokers would complain.

“Whatever I say is going to be wrong anyway to somebody,” he said. “I just stay out of the whole limelight of politics. I’m for whatever they say, that’s what I’ll do.”

However, now that the smoking is technically illegal, he reckons he could come out ahead.

“I think for the most part they’ll be fine with it,” he said of the smokers. “But it’ll take a while for them to get used to it.”

He said he expects a few of his regulars to drop off, for a while.

“But then the ones that don’t smoke will start coming, and the ones who do smoke will come back. I think I’ll really end up gaining when it’s all said and done,” said Barber.

He said he would be willing to install outdoor seating to accommodate smokers if the city would agree to allow people to sit outside and have a beer. As it is, he doubts the police will ticket anyone who sips a beer and has a cigarette.

“I don’t think the police or none of them is going to push the issue if someone walks out there and drinks a beer and smokes a cigarette,” he said.

And while smokers will have to step five feet away from the door, he said even that’s not so far.

“It’s five feet,” he said. “It’s not like they have to walk across the street to smoke a cigarette.”

Meanwhile, across town, the sentiment was quite different at Tropical Breeze. About a dozen people crowded around the long bar and most seemed to agree with Don Miley, a smoker, who said, “I think the smoking ban is a crock.”

The bar’s owner, Margaret Creel, is not a smoker, but she also opposes the ban because she’s afraid she’ll lose customers.

Creel had a petition for people to sign in order to oppose the ban and it had about 70 signatures on it.

However, the signatures were not presented to the city council on Tuesday and no smokers — or non-smokers — appeared at the city council meeting to voice their complaints against the law.

But Creel said she’s certain once the law is enforced, it will shut her down.

“I asked a woman the other day, what if I told you you can’t come in and smoke today? She said, ‘Then I’m leaving,’” Creel said.

But if the law is enforced, it would likely be enforced evenly, across the board, meaning that every bar would be smoke-free and so smokers would either have to accept it or never go out. Creel said she believes smokers would do the latter.

“This is not Hammond,” she said. “This is not Baton Rouge. This is Bogalusa, and this is not good for this little town.”

Ruth Phelps, a patron and another non-smoker, agreed.

“If you stop the smokers, it’ll close your business down,” Phelps said. She added that if smokers go outside for a cigarette and carry their beer, they could risk a fine for open container.

Another patron, Judy Fornea, said she didn’t think the ban was fair to smokers. Fornea said her daughter has asthma and she doesn’t smoke around her daughter, but she still opposed smoke-free bars. She said the imposition to smokers was too great.

“They’re not going to run outside in the cold to smoke a cigarette,” Fornea said.