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Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
Email: mhernandez@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mhernandezwwl

NEW ORLEANS - When you walk into the Maple Leaf Bar on Wednesdays, you'll notice something's different.

No one is lighting a cigarette.

Signs around the bar say, 'Tonight's show is no smoking.'

It's an experiment the bar began conducting every Wednesday about two months ago.

'It looks like it's the wave of the future, so we might as well get on board with it,' said Hank Staples, Maple Leaf co-owner. 'It's been going well. I've been surprised at the number of smokers that have supported it.'

The Maple Leaf is one of more than 100 bars or event venues in the city going smoke-free at least one night a week, according to Healthier Air for All, part of the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living.

And if Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell has her way, smoking will be banned in all New Orleans bars, casinos, public parks and near government buildings. She is working on drafting an ordinance to do just that, and plans to introduce it in November.

'This is about public health and public safety. This is not an attack on smokers,' said Cantrell. 'People have the right to do what they want to do as it relates to their own health and their body. But that's their own personal right and inflicting that on another person, I think that's where the line is drawn.'

But at Dos Jefes Cigar Bar, lighting up is part of the atmosphere.

Co-owner Richie Shaner said nearly a quarter of his revenue comes from cigar sales. He believes banning smoking in New Orleans bars will have a major impact on bars throughout the city.

'It's what you do, you go to bars to smoke and drink. I think it should be on the owner to decide if I want a no-smoking bar, and we have those,' said Shaner. 'If they want to come here, it's because it is what it is. It's a cigar bar.'

Cantrell's office is also working to address concerns about safety and noise outside bars if smokers are forced to go outside.

Staples said some smokers have said it's a nuisance to go smoke-free on Wednesdays, but that hasn't stopped them from coming in.

He points to the copper-colored ceilings, saying they were originally silver and must be painted every four to five years due to the smoke.

'I think it will improve business. I have a lot of people I see in the neighborhood. It didn't really occur to me they hadn't been coming here because it's too smoky,' said Staples, who expects the Maple Leaf will go smoke-free full-time in the coming months.

Cantrell said the ban would not prevent cigarettes or cigars from being sold at bars, but people would have to smoke them outside. The ban would also include e-cigarettes.

Cantrell said her office is working with the Louisiana Public Health Institute on a comprehensive analysis on the impact of a smoking ban.

'We've seen the trends, the growth across the U.S. that there's been no negative impact. Revenues have actually increased,' Cantrell said.

As for cigar bars like Dos Jefes, 'That has been recommended, that they're folded into the ban. We're looking at that as well. We're taking our time leading up to November to draft something comprehensive and looking at all areas of impact,' said Cantrell.

Shaner believes his revenue will drop significantly if the ban goes into effect, but said he'll continue to operate as a bar either way.

'It's uncivilized loitering in front of the sidewalk to smoke,' said Shaner. 'Sometimes it takes an hour to smoke a cigar.'

It's a divisive issue that has failed at the state level multiple times. But Cantrell believes she has enough support from the council to snuff out smoking in bars.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu supports the ban as well, said a city hall spokeswoman.

Once the ordinance is introduced, the public will have a chance to comment. Cantrell hopes the council will vote on the ordinance by the beginning of next year.

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