New Orleans going smoke-free in bars, other public places

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Smoking in bars and casinos is coming to an end even in this notoriously freewheeling and fun-loving city where drinking on the street and watching a bawdy burlesque are the norm.

Starting at midnight Tuesday, smoking will no longer be permitted in bars, gambling halls and many other public places such as hotels, workplaces, private clubs and stores.

For many locals, a ban on smoking seemed unthinkable in this city that loves to tout itself as the capital of the laissez-faire attitude. The prohibition includes smoking electronic cigarettes indoors in public places.

“As other cities changed and we made no groans and moans, I thought we’d leave it alone,” said Glenn O’Berry, a 66-year-old bartender at Kajun’s Pub in Faubourg Marigny neighborhood. He sat smoking cigarettes at the bar’s long, curved counter on a recent quiet afternoon.

O’Berry came to New Orleans in 1976 from Virginia and like so many other visitors was thrilled by the city’s tolerant attitude. Back then, he remembers being told he could drink alcohol on the street.

“That’s what made me fall in love with the city,” he said. “That freedom.”

He said the smoking ban would leave New Orleans “with a little bit less of that whimsical, devil-may-care attitude.”

The ban was passed over the objections of bar owners and Harrah’s New Orleans, the city’s major downtown casino. Last Friday, owners of the casino and dozens of other businesses filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the ordinance from taking effect. A state judge declined to stop the city from enforcing the ban but set a May 21 hearing on the matter.

“All we’ve been trying to do with this lawsuit is slow the process down,” said Alex Fein of the Court of Two Sisters restaurant and bar. “We don’t feel like they vetted the process enough.”

Business owners warn that the ban may cut into revenues by as much as 20 percent in the first year.

The City Council passed the smoking ordinance in late January and Mayor Mitch Landrieu quickly signed it into law. The city’s leaders are supporting the ban primarily as a health measure and say bans in other cities have not hurt business profits in the long run.

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Associated Press writer Stacey Plaisance contributed material for this report.

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