Led by advocates, county officials marched closer to extending the City of Missoula’s ban on flavored vaping products five miles beyond the city’s urban boundary on Tuesday.
But residents outside Missoula cautioned county commissioners against placing city rules on county residents when those county residents cannot vote on the city officials who adopted the ordinance.
The City Council adopted its ban on selling and displaying all flavored electronic tobacco products in November. The ordinance, which goes into effect this month, underwent a number of hearings and revisions.
Now, like then, tobacco opponents are using statistics to note the dangers of flavored vaping products in hopes the county will extend the city ban.
“Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, and nearly all tobacco use starts in youth and young adulthood,” said Arwyn Welander, the county’s tobacco prevention specialist. “The introduction of electronic devices has shifted the kind of tobacco youth use.”
According to Welander, frequent vaping among Montana high-school students increased 243% between 2017 and 2019 while daily use of the product increased 263%. Research suggests that children who vape are more likely to become cigarette smokers in the future.
Welander also said that sweet, candy flavored vaping products – and the placement of those products in certain convenience stores – is driving the resurgence of tobacco use among youth.
“Tobacco companies have a long history of using flavored products to attract new users, which they need to replace the thousands of people who die each year from tobacco related use,” she said.
The city ordinance bans the display of self-service tobacco products of any kind, except where children aren’t permitted. It also bans the sale of all flavored electronic tobacco products. It makes it illegal to sell tobacco to anyone under the age of 18 as well.
“All of the progress made in the last few decades to get tobacco use down, we’ve backtracked,” said Missoula City Council member Gwen Jones. “We’ve lost all that progress. With the introduction of this vaping product in the last decade, we’re right back where we were, if not worse.”
Jones, one of several advocates of the ordinance, urged the county to extend the ban beyond city limits. Under state law, the county has extraterritorial powers to place city regulations on county residents and businesses within a certain distance.
If adopted, the ordinance would extend five miles from city limits “as the crow flies,” not by driving miles. As a result, it would likely cover both Bonner and Lolo.
“Local government can address local store sales by prohibiting the sale of these products,” said Missoula City Council member Mirtha Becerra. “This ordinance creates a greater barrier to youth either purchasing the product, or friends and family purchasing it for them.”
But some are taking offense to having rules adopted by the Missoula City Council placed on county residents, because those county residents cannot vote for City Council members.
Jones represents the University District in the city of Missoula while Becerra represents the area around North Reserve. Both worked to created the city tobacco ordinance.
“As a proud resident of the southeastern part of the county outside city limits, I can tell you there are several of my neighbors who are not big fans of city ordinances being put their direction when they don’t get to vote for the government that puts it out there,” said Earl Allen. “I’m glad you’re taking careful consideration on this.”
Allen, the marketing manager for Noon’s Food Stores, said it was unfair for tobacco opponents to paint all retail stores with the same brush. He said his company has implemented a number of compliance checks and doesn’t display its tobacco products in the manner depicted by county health officials.
“A lot of us retailers get painted with a broad brush. We never even had those items,” Allen said. “Not all retailers are bad actors. We’ve been on the front lines of age restricted products for years.”
The county is scheduled to consider the ban later this month, just as the city ban goes into effect.