The RiverStone Board of Health (City County Board of Health) has adopted regulations that control where people can use e-cigarettes and restricts smoking within 20 feet of any doorway or window of a public building or a private building that offers public access.
The Clean Indoor Air Act Rule #7 goes into effect on March 1.
Based on Montana’s Clean Indoor Air Act (CIAA), the Health Board says the rule will further protect the public from effects of secondhand smoke and vapors. It also prohibits smoking tobacco and devices inside buildings with public access.
A public hearing held in June in Billings stirred considerable controversy among the owners of vaping (e-cigarette) shops, and the owners of restaurants, casinos and bars.
The rule adds to the restrictions of the Montana CIAA, which prohibits smoking in enclosed public spaces. It also imposes upon private citizens, ie. the property owners and their managers, the responsibility to post signs, a “duty” to warn violators and an obligation to file complaints.
While it is an encroachment on private property rights, a press release from the board said, the new rule “recognizes that the rights of nonsmokers to breathe clean air has priority over the desire to smoke or use electronic nicotine delivery systems.”
As the county’s public health governing body, The RiverStone Board of Health sets public health policy for Yellowstone County. At their June public hearing most of the testimony opposed the proposed regulations which originally called for a 30 foot space around public entrances, windows or ventilation openings.
The press release announced that the board made their decision in mid-December, stating that the rule “further protects the public from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.”
Objections to the regulations were raised during the June public hearing by business owners who were resisting being held accountable for the actions of other people and for conduct by passers-by, often outside their property boundaries. Others worried it was enough to push them out of business because it prohibits their customers from trying out their products.
John Iverson, representing the Montana Tavern Association, said in June, “This rule is about making smoking so inconvenient it becomes de facto prohibition. They cannot do it anywhere. That is not right.”
Iverson reminded that when the state legislature imposed the CIAA there was an agreement with the Tavern Owners Association in return for their support, that that would be the extent of regulations against smoking. The implementation of that regulation dealt a devastating blow to many small businesses throughout Montana, and some did not survive the loss of business they suffered.
But said the press release over the 13 years since the law was imposed, “… Montanans have grown accustomed to smoking outdoors.”
Owners of businesses that sell e-cigarettes, such as Randy Coulter of uBlaze Vapor said the regulations make selling and demonstrating their products impossible. They have a right to conduct business and pursue a livelihood involving a legal product, he said. Coulter said that customers going into such businesses have an expectation of encountering such vapors and that the regulations basically prohibit the functioning of those businesses.
A number of residents stepped forward in support of the rule citing situations in which they believe that the public exposure to the second hand smoke and vapors pose hazards to health. One woman said she didn’t like that every time she goes to Walmart she has to walk through an entrance that smells of smoke.
The new rule requires that privately held businesses post clearly visible signs at all public entrances. If they fail to do so they are not in compliance with the new law. The new window-cling signs, supplied by the county, RiverStone Health, indicate no smoking or use of e-cigarettes is allowed indoors and that people cannot smoke or use electronic nicotine delivery systems within 20 feet of a public building or a private building with public access. Business owners and their managers are also obligated with the duty to warn persons who violate the Rule, and to file a complaint against the people who violate the rule.
Rule #7 only applies in Yellowstone County, however, the Board is following actions in 13 other states and 710 local jurisdictions across the United States in prohibiting indoor use of electronic nicotine delivery systems, states the press release. Six other Montana counties already restrict vaping and on March 1, Lake County public health officials will also prohibit indoor vaping.
Police enforcement of the new Rule is triggered by complaints and penalties include warnings, reprimands or fines.