After nearly two months of hearings and amendments, the Missoula City Council approved an ordinance banning the sale of flavored electronic tobacco products on Monday night.
The ordinance will go into effect in January within city limits, along with a five-mile radius.
Sponsors of the ordinance said it’s a needed step to address the rising use of tobacco among youth in Missoula. Making such products harder to access will reduce the odds that under-age individuals will get started, they believe.
“We are locally in a position tackling a problem that is huge,” said Heidi West, one of five sponsors of the ordinance. “I think this ordinance appropriately addresses e-cigarettes, which is clearly a huge issue in our community and also is a gateway to creating lifelong nicotine users.”
Councilors voted for the ordinance 8-4 with council members John Contos, Heather Harp, Jesse Ramos and Sandra Vasecka voting against it.
Harp said “parents should be allowed to parent” when it comes to tobacco use. Instead, there should be a focus on educating youth about the risks of tobacco and nicotine use.
“I just don’t feel that it’s my position to tell someone else what to do with their own body,” Harp said. “I feel that parents should be allowed to parent, and I understand that not all households are in that kind of situation. But I also see education coming through in many different ways, and that we can figure out ways to help young people not get addicted.”
The ordinance will also ban the use of self-service displays and create language to match existing state laws.
The original ordinance included a ban on all flavored tobacco, which had the support of health officials but was opposed by dozens of businesses and tobacco users. It also faced a possible lawsuit.
Amendments to the ordinance targeted only flavored e-tobacco and, as a result, it lost support from the public health community. They said the ban is “incomplete” and would create inequity in Missoula.
With it being the first ban of its kind in Montana, council member and sponsor Gwen Jones defended it.
“I think we got a well-written ordinance that I hope will stand up in court that addresses that causation factor and tries to address it,” Jones said. “And really I hope in a couple of years that there is more support holistically across Montana to address this issue more than we’re doing now. But I think it’s a good strong start, and we need to pass this ordinance, and see where it gets us in the next few years.”