A House panel rejected a Senate-passed measure Tuesday that would have banned smoking in Louisiana bars and casinos — likely ending the battle in the 2010 legislative session.
The state Health and Welfare Committee voted 8-4 to involuntarily defer the legislation.
In recent years, the committee has been a graveyard for bills that sought to expand Louisiana’s Smoke Free Air Act. Earlier in the session, the same panel rejected a much less-restrictive bill that would have required casinos to have non-smoking areas.
Under current law, smoking is barred in any public buildings, school, restaurant, public places and any enclosed area within a place of employment.
“It’s long past time we offer musicians, entertainers, bartenders and casino workers the same smoke-free environment we enjoy,” Senate Bill 348 sponsor state Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Grosse Tete, told the committee.
It’s a major health issue, he said.
Lafayette musician-composer David Egan, a cancer survivor, said working a smoke-filled “toxic environment” almost killed him. “My work environment should be as safe as yours,” Egan said as he urged bill passage.
SB348 died under heavy lobbying by casino and liquor industry representatives.
They argued that a no-smoking requirement would lead to lost state and local revenues because of fewer patrons as well as employee layoffs at affected establishments because of less business.
“At the end of the day, this is the reality of folks who vote with their feet,” said Wade Duty, executive director for the Louisiana Casino Association.
“It’s an adult choice, an adult venue,” Duty said. There is no “hue and cry” to extend the smoking ban, he argued.
Chris Young, lobbyist for the Louisiana Association of Beverage Licensees, said if bars and casinos want to go smoke free it is their option today. He said some have, but that is their choice.
Marionneaux disputed the financial loss arguments, citing studies that showed revenue gains or no impact in other states where casino and bar smoking bans have been implemented.
Marionneaux said many more uncounted costs are associated with the cancer and other diseases that non-smoking bartenders, musicians and other employees get from exposure to second-hand smoke.
Opponents of the ban mentioned economics no less than 26 times during their presentation, Marionneaux said. “At no time did they mention health,” he said.
Approximately 1,000 children and adults die every year in Louisiana from exposure to second-hand smoke, Marionneaux said.
Daniel Harrington of the LSU School of Public Health described a study in which he found that people in 27 Baton Rouge bars and one casino monitored had 14 times greater exposure to second-hand smoke than those in smoke-free restaurants in Louisiana.
Harrington said 86 percent of the bars and one casino where air quality was measured registered unhealthy to very unhealthy and hazardous levels of particulate matter. Harrington said he conducted the study April 14-21 for the Louisiana Public Health Institute.
Voting FOR killing SB348 (8): Committee Chairwoman Rep. Kay Katz, R-Monroe, and Reps Richie Burford, R-Stonewall, Jean Doerge, D-Minden, Robert Johnson, D-Marksville, John LaBruzzo, R-Metairie, Bernard LeBas, D-Ville Platte, Scott Simon, R-Abita Springs, and Thomas Willmott, R-Kenner.
Voting AGAINST the motion to involuntarily defer the measure (4): Reps Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, Walker Hines, D-New Orleans, Rickey Nowlin, R-Natchitoches, and J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs.
By MARSHA SHULER
Advocate Capitol News Bureau, May 26, 2010