Monday, July 20, 2009

Councilwoman Head pushing for tobacco change

Councilwoman Stacy Head is set to introduce an ordinance this week that would create new restrictions on tobacco sales in the city.

It's a fight to steer New Orleans kids away from tobacco use.

"This is an initiative that has been brought together by a large coalition of people, some faith based organizations, some organizations dedicated to trying to reduce the use of tobacco products," Head said.

The measure would ban new businesses from selling tobacco products within a certain distance from city schools, playgrounds, libraries and churches.

Existing businesses would be excluded from the ban.

Up for debate is just how far the boundary lines would extend.

Head said it could be anywhere from 300 to 1,000 feet.

Those details will be worked out during a Housing and Human Needs Committee meeting Monday.

"We don't allow liquor sales often very close to churches and close to schools and close to parks,” Head said. “We should have the same rules for tobacco. It's gonna help, again, set an environment around a school that's going to be more wholesome."

Pastor Patrick Keen with Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Central City said the measure would be an important cog in the city’s rebuilding effort.

"It's a land use ordinance that we're addressing,” he said. “How do we use the land in New Orleans as we develop post-Katrina?”

Keen believes the proposal would help offset what he describes as an ongoing tobacco advertising blitz.

"Our children are being targeted by the tobacco industry,” he said. “There's about $251 million that's used by marketing specialists in the tobacco industry in Louisiana alone."

But some retailers feel a restriction would be unnecessary, pointing out there are already laws on the books addressing underage tobacco sales.

"If they're worried about minors, especially like from schools, they don't have to be worried about it because the state has a law and we do have strict laws regarding our store over here,” said Deya Ottallah, who manages a convenience store not far from Cohen High School. “There is no selling tobacco for minors."

Head said children do get around the laws, however. And she disagrees with the notion that her proposal could signify too much government.

"I'm a firm believer in the market taking care of many, many, many things, but I think government has an obligation to control the market when it's something as harmful as tobacco and kids," Head said.

The proposal is expected to be ready for a full council vote on Thursday