Smoking ban seems to have little effect on local restaurants

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 29, 2007


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – When Louisiana legislation decided smokers would need to butt out of restaurants starting in 2007, some people were concerned the clean air would impact business, but the lack of change is as clear as the air inside the buildings.

How much has a smoke-free requirement affected local businesses?

&#8220Not at all,” Co-owner of B&C Seafood Donna Becnel said.

&#8220Not really,” Co-owner of Bull’s Corner Mike Norton said.

&#8220No effect,” Manager of Mabile’s Restaurant Wendy Allert said.

The lack of change in business patterns suggests that few people are fleeing to bars to combine their lunch and dinner with a nicotine fix, which Norton argues may be related to quality of available entrees. &#8220You can only eat so much crappy bar food,” he said.

Video poker players, however, are generally less interested in food than gambling and smoking and are leaving restaurants in favor of bars, according to Allert. To keep its current customer base, a St. James restaurant has been defiantly allowing its customers to smoke in the video poker area, which is restricted under the new law.

Louisiana legislation initiated the &#8220Louisiana Smokefree Air Act” to restrict smoking in most Louisiana businesses, excluding bars, casinos, hotel rooms, tobacco stores and assisted living and nursing home facilities, but many businesses prohibited smoking in their restaurants years ago with positive results.

&#8220Customers say they really appreciate it. We’ve had customers over the years say the food was so good but the smoke was so bad,” Jim Toler, co-owner of Frostop in LaPlace said. Frostop has been non-smoking for eight years.

With the initiation of the &#8220Louisiana Smokefree Air Act” the state became one of 22 to have some degree of a smoking ban. Only nine of those states restricted smoking in all businesses, and Norton is concerned restaurant owners are being singled out.

&#8220Why is smoke in my restaurant more dangerous than smoke in a bar?” Norton asked. &#8220They say they want to protect employees, why are bartenders any different from restaurant employees? I wish they had done it to everybody.”

None of the available restaurant representatives in the River Parishes said they plan apply for a bar license, which would restrict customers under 18 from entering but allow smoking in the establishment.

Individuals who smoke in restaurants or businesses covered by the &#8220Louisiana Smokefree Air Act” can be fined $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second and $100 for each additional penalty. Business owners that allow smoking in restricted areas can be fined $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second and $500 for any additional acts.