Saturday, April 13, 2024

Shreveport City Council tables smoking ban repeal following contentious discussion

by BIZ Magazine

The Shreveport City Council voted Tuesday to table a vote that would repeal the ban on smoking in the city’s casinos.

The vote on the ordinance, which was originally approved by the council 13 months ago, went through several different changes over the course of the meeting. 

Councilman James Flurry first motioned to table the repeal of the smoke free act for two weeks. Flurry noted this was in order to explore the possibility of allowing smoking outside, a designated smoking area in the casinos, or to make the third floor of casinos smoke free “as a compromise.” 

That was then argued against, and a motion was made to vote for or against the repeal of the city’s ordinance that casinos be smoke free.

The smoke free ordinance was voted to be repealed 4-3. Councilpersons LeVette Fuler, John Nickelson, and Jerry Bowman were the three votes for keeping the smoke free ordinance. 

After the council moved on, Councilwoman Tabatha Taylor voiced her concerns on her vote and asked to recast votes on the ordinance.

“I believe businesses should be allowed to (choose to allow smoking or not). But when I have to look at the people I have to represent in the eye, (to repeal smoking) is what we said,” Taylor said.

Councilman Grayson Boucher said his vote would be different if the City of Bossier City was on board with repealing smoking in casinos. He noted that he had conversations with Bossier City Mayor Tommy Chandler about the city’s support for disallowing smoking, and that Chandler would entertain the idea of making Bossier City casinos smoke free.

The council then moved, and approved, to table the vote in order to continue to have conversations with the administration in the City of Bossier City.

Fuler said no matter what the vote was, the message is the same: “There is no compromise on people’s health.”

“They had 13 months to retrofit. They have the most robust data collection and marketing of any industry in this community. They had the tools and had the time to make the changes,” she said. 

Nickelson noted that this topic is deeply personal to him and he asked that the council hold to the decision that was made more than one year ago.

“We will take thousands of votes over our term and most of them we will forget. But I promise that each of us will remember years after we leave office what we did when we were asked to weigh the balance of the lives, health, and safety of the thousands of people who work in the two casinos in our city,” he said.

Citizens voicing their opinions on the social media livestream said the delay of a vote was a “slap in the face.”

The council was inundated with numerous guest speakers, ranging from public safety advocates to business owners and friends and family members of casino workers, all asking the council to enforce the smoke free ordinance in the city’s casinos.

Onjewel Smith with Smoke Free Shreveport and Tobacco Free Louisiana noted that the casinos predict $2M less will be given to the city due to a decline in business. She said, “What is one life in Shreveport worth to you? The casinos in Shreveport earned and will continue to earn millions of dollars.”

Dr. Martha White, director for the Office of Public Health, argued that no one is thinking about the costs of healthcare for the people exposed to smoking in casinos.

“We also don’t consider that a very low percentage of people smoke, about 15%. We’re making a decision for a small part of our population that also hurts themselves and other people. That’s when we need to stand up and say, ‘It’s not okay,’” she said.

Ray Powell, a local business owner, said his business thrives on tourism and he sought input on the ordinance from other businesses, casino workers and tourism-reliant businesses. 

“Everyone said the same thing — second hand smoke kills. That you’re allowing this to happen is criminal,” he said.

Mike McClanahan, NAACP Louisiana State Conference President and National Board Member, said, “I’m from Baton Rouge and there are no casinos that have gone out of business since we had a smoke free environment. They’re flourishing, and New Orleans is the same way.”

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