How will the proposed smoking ban affect noise in New Orleans?

smoking photo

When Jimmy Anselmo wanted a liquor license so that the new owners could open Jimmy’s Music Club, they had to sign a good neighbor agreement that was designed to minimize noise. “The club's patio, which must close earlier than the rest of the club, cannot have speakers, and alcohol cannot be served on the patio,” Keith Spera reported in The Times-Picayune. “Jimmy's must hire a sound engineer to soundproof the venue, so that music is not ‘plainly audible’ more than 50 feet from the front door.” The provisions focused on the noise created by the music, but when St. Roch Tavern faced an ABO Board hearing in 2013, one of the complaints against it was noise created by smokers on the sidewalk outside the smoke-free venue.

So far, most of the debate about LaToya Cantrell's proposed smoking ordinance that City Council will vote on Thursday has focused on its potential impact on business. One question that merits more consideration than it is receiving is the proposed ban's impact on noise. When New York banned smoking in bars in 2003, noise complaints went up as smokers had to go outside for a cigarette. Their boozy conversations on sidewalks outside bars created noise problems for residents who lived nearby. 

Smokers outside Bourbon Street and Frenchmen Street bars might not affect the sonic landscape much, though their traffic going out and back in will also force clubs' doors to be open even more than they are now, letting whatever sound the doors keep inside to be heard outside. Forcing smokers to go outside could pose problems for places like the Rusty Nail and other bars that sit side by side with people's residences. Smokers outside Cosimo's, The Rusty Nail, Markey's, The Milan, and countless other small bars could well be disruptive to the surrounding neighborhood. E-cigarettes aren't a solution since they too would be banned.

Perhaps greater street noise is the trade-off for cleaner air in public spaces, but City Council needs to be aware of the consequences of their decisions. Solving one problem to exacerbate another isn’t progress.