Opinion: HB 137 is an insult to Montana cities, threat to local decision making
It’s an insult to blow smoke in someone’s face. That’s what Big Tobacco and its enablers in the Legislature are doing to Montanans right now, and we should all be offended.
House Bill 137, sponsored by vape shop owner Rep. Ron Marshall, would allow people to use electronic smoking devices such as e-cigarettes in nearly all public spaces in our state. Not only would this bill overturn policies in 11 Montana localities where e-cigarettes use is prohibited inside public places, it would also prevent Montana communities from implementing any future protections from tobacco.
Local residents and leaders know how to solve local problems—because they see them up close. In 11 communities across the state, parents, teachers, health professionals, faith leaders and others addressed the concern that Montana’s Clean Indoor Air Act, passed in 2005, hadn’t been updated to include toxic e-cigarette aerosol. Community members fought to add e-cigarettes into their local smoke-free policies. In each case, public hearings were held, the issue was debated, and local boards of health (appointed by elected officials), city councils and county commissions approved the final measures.
These policies protect nearly 500,000 people—half our state’s population. They are supported by communities large and small ranging from Yellowstone and Lewis and Clark counties to Carbon, Mineral and Powell counties.
When communities use local knowledge to come up with a solution, leaders should listen, not strike it down. If legislators pass HB 137, they’ll send citizens the message that local decisions don’t matter, and that Big Tobacco and e-cigarette retailers have the right to decide what’s best for Montanans. Residents will have to contend with toxic e-cigarette aerosol nearly anywhere they go. If you enjoy going to restaurants, stores and other public places without breathing e-cigarette toxins, too bad. For HB 137 supporters, the profits of tobacco retailers and Big Tobacco matter more.
Montanans should be outraged. First, the bill undermines our constitutional right to make decisions at the community level, a freedom Montana has enjoyed for more than a century. Second, e-cigarette aerosol is a proven health hazard. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarette aerosols can contain cancer-causing chemicals, ultrafine particles that can damage the lungs, and heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead. We don’t need these substances added to our public spaces, especially during COVID-19 when lung health is critical.
Allowing these emissions into public spaces would endanger old and young lungs alike and send the message to children that it’s ok to use these substances. Youth use of e-cigarettes is at an all-time high in Montana.
HB 137 would roll back and prevent any future youth protections regarding e-cigarettes or any new products. This includes local policies passed in Missoula and Helena to stop kids from being targeted with candy-flavored tobacco products. If the bill passes, our youth e-cigarette epidemic will continue.
This bill is a gift to Big Tobacco at the expense of public health and Montanans’ freedom to make local decisions. Our leaders should listen to communities, not corporations. States should provide a foundation—so everyone is ensured basic protections. But local communities should be able to build on that foundation because local impact starts with local ideas.
Montanans who care about local decision making and public health should tell their legislators loud and clear to vote NO on HB 137. Speak up now, before it’s too late.
Kristin Page Nei is the Montana government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Amanda Cahill is the Montana government relations director for the American Heart Association, Carrie Nyssen is the senior director of advocacy for the American Lung Association.