City Council set to modernize Missoula’s smoking ordinance, add e-cigarettes

Members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to bring the city’s smoking ordinance into the 21st century, banning the use of electronic cigarettes in indoor public places and giving business owners the ability to restrict smoking within 25 feet of their entryways.

The measure, introduced by council member Michelle Cares and Shannon Therriault, the environmental health director at the City-County Health Department, is set for a public hearing next week.

“A lot of business owners have been asking for this,” said Kaila Warren, the health department’s tobacco prevention specialist. “It’s a different world out there now than I think it was, and it’s not as normalized to smoke. There’s a different behavior change now, and people don’t want to be exposed to it.”

Missoula was the first city in Montana to adopt an ordinance banning smoking in indoor public places in 1999. After lengthy and contentious debate, the Montana Legislature adopted its own statewide restrictions in 2005, banning indoor smoking in most public places.

Four years later, the state expanded the restrictions to bars and taverns. Since then, local health officials contend, Missoula’s original ordinance has become less stringent than state law. But instead of repealing it completely, the health department opted to modernize it, and members of the City Council agreed.

“Updating this ordinance creates a more uniform application of the Clean Indoor Air Act,” said council member Julie Armstrong. “This is a response to business owners who have asked us to codify that buffer zone, because they want to be able to enforce it. This gives them the opportunity and choice to enforce it which, before, there were no repercussions or consequences for people smoking outside their door.”

Among the changes proposed to the city ordinance, the new rules would give privately owned businesses the authority to prohibit smoking within 25 feet of their entry way. It would also ban the use of e-cigarettes in indoor public places.

Warren said nearly half of all high school students have tried e-cigarettes and 23 percent are current users. The National Academy of Science, however, has published evidence suggesting that vapor from e-cigarettes emits potentially toxic substances.

Seven other Montana communities have already banned vaping in indoor public places.

“With the increased rate of youth using e-cigarettes, this a smart prevention move,” said Warren. “The big overall message is, it would great for the overall health of Missoulians.”

The city ordinance would also prohibit smoking in certain outdoor public places, such as parks and picnic shelters. It also clarifies the penalties for violating the ordinance.

“We pass legislation to set expectations for the great community good and benefit, even where enforcement is a challenge,” said council member Bryan von Lossberg. “Our job is not to pass only legislation we know we can enforce 100 percent. If that were the test, we would have no laws.”

Council member Julie Merritt added that the new ordinance would be easily enforced by members of the community.

“This is an ordinance it would be very easy for citizens to enforce themselves,” she said. “If there’s someone smoking in a place next to a no smoking sign, I think it’s common for members of the public to ask them to stop.”