Misbehaving Baldly: What’s behind the smoking ban?

A balanced and insightful analysis by very excellent Wayne Curtis.

 . . . more than the loss of indoor smoking itself, seems to aggrieve many of those who opposed the ban. In fact, the loudest grousing I heard came from friends who are nonsmokers. They saw this as an attack on what makes New Orleans New Orleans.

This is, after all, a city where you can not only misbehave badly, but also misbehave baldly. Bars don’t have a closing time, and you can carry your drink down the street to the next bar, possibly behind a brass band that’s snarling traffic. The smoking ban was seen as the first step on a regrettable journey, the final stop of which is a New Orleans indistinguishable from Columbus, Ohio.

They see the quirks of New Orleans—smoking inside, drinking outside, music everywhere—as worth celebrating and defending. They argue that the city’s laissez-faire approach to vice is at the heart of the city’s culture . . .

The pride of being apart from the rest of the country was nicely captured in an anecdote I heard at a literary conference a few years back. A writer from Jamaica was talking about his first trip to the city, and said that his friends back home assured him he’d love it. “It’s got great food and music,” they told him. “And it’s so close to America!” The audience howled.

I’m a nonsmoker, and I’m rather ambivalent about the smoking ban. I’m all for it if this means healthier musicians and bartenders, and a wider selection of bars to watch the Saints without feeling like I’ve walked into a “Pittsburgh 1963” Instagram filter. But I’m totally opposed to the smoking ban if it’s a shot across the bow, and signals a larger push on curbing music and marching and drinking in the street.