Shreveport City Councilman flips positions on smoking ban

Attempt to exempt casinos called ‘a slap in the face’

Cigarette smoke rises from an ashtray. (Stock photo by Wes Muller/La. Illuminator)

After the Shreveport City Council passed a comprehensive smoking ban scheduled to take effect in August, a councilman who previously supported the law now wants to exempt casinos for a year. A health advocate called his reversal a “slap in the face” to casino workers.

The City Council first proposed a smoking ban around Memorial Day, but because it exempted casinos, advocates from the American Heart Association and the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Louisiana considered that proposal weak.

After receiving written comments from more than 40 casino-industry workers who support strong smoke-free workplace policies, the City Council revised its proposal to apply to all businesses. The much stronger ordinance passed in a 5-2 vote on June 9 and was scheduled to go into effect on Aug. 8. 

However, last week Councilman Jerry Bowman Jr. introduced an amendment that walks back the law to exempt casinos until August 2021.

Bowman did not respond to a request for comment via email on Thursday, and the voicemail for his city phone number was full.

City Councilwoman LeVette Fuller, a strong proponent of the full industry-wide smoking ban, said Bowman did not offer any reasons on the record for his reversal. Fuller said Bowman may be concerned that the ordinance will drive casino revenue and jobs away from Shreveport.

Fuller pointed out that nearby Bossier has no smoking ban and may henceforth poach smoking gamblers who would otherwise place their bets at Shreveport casinos.

Fuller also said she received a phone call from Sen. Greg Tarver, D-Shreveport, who asked her to consider a six-month extension to give casinos an opportunity to adjust to the new law. She suspects Bowman received a similar call from the senator.

Tarver did not respond to the Illuminator’s request for comment. 

Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Hammond, Lafayette, Monroe and New Orleans are among the Louisiana jurisdictions that have passed comprehensive smoking bans similar to the June 9 ordinance that passed in Shreveport. According to the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living, about 21 percent of Louisiana residents live in places with such bans.

Advocates are now speaking out against the Shreveport councilmembers trying to walk back the recently passed ordinance.

Ashley Hebert with the American Heart Association said the citizens of Shreveport overwhelmingly support a full industry-wide smoking ban. Bowman’s sudden reversal indicates he is “bowing” to pressure from state legislators and the casino industry, she said. 

“It’s a slap in the face to the people they just told deserved a smoke-free workplace,” Hebert said in an email. “The citizens of Shreveport were loud and clear: it’s time to go smoke-free. And that means all businesses.”

Councilwoman Fuller also said service-industry workers deserve to work in healthy environments, especially now with the additional threat of COVID-19.

“While I want people to have jobs,” Fuller said, “the employees at the casinos are telling me that they don’t want to have to choose between their health and a paycheck.”

With some members wanting additional time to consider the proposed change, the council has postponed voting until its next meeting on July 14.

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Wesley Muller
Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the following 22 years since then, he has worked as a journalist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. Much of his work has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and watchdog coverage of municipal and state government. He has received several honors and recognitions, including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus, a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper, and an adjunct English teacher at Baton Rouge Community College. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his teenage son and his wife, who is also a journalist.