New smoking law delayed to rework vaping rules

Over two hours into its Monday night meeting, Mayor John Engen interrupted the Missoula City Council’s discussion on the proposed smoking ordinance.

“Do you all want to get this done tonight?”

He was met with silence.

“Is that a yes?”

Well, no.

After lengthy public comment from vape shop owners and questions from the city council, they decided to rework the law around vaping indoors, delaying a final decision.

The proposed ordinance broadens the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act, banning vaping and e-cigarette use indoors and allowing business owners to ban smoking outdoors within 25 feet of their entrances.

It also would outlaw smoking in certain city-managed public areas like playgrounds, sports fields, Silver’s Lagoon and the duck ponds on Bancroft Street, along with other areas.

In previous discussions, the council was supportive of the law, mostly concerned about enforcement of the outdoor smoking component.

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But two local vape shop owners, from Ecig Vapor Juice and Liberty Vapor Smoke, convinced Ward 3 representative Heather Harp to propose an exemption for vape stores specifically, something that will have to be worked out by City-County Health Department employees.

Keith Bowman, who owns Ecig Vapor Juice, said testing the vapor flavors at the store is an essential part of the business, especially for first-time customers.

“Vapor is not the same as your traditional cigarette and should not be treated as such,” Bowman said. “(Testing in store) is the main way of figuring out if that is something they can use to get off cigarettes.”

Vaping proponents were delighted with the delay and promise of an exemption, though health department employees said it’s a murky area.

In Montana, vape shops are licensed as tobacco shops, making an official census hard to come by. Vape products are sold as tertiary items at grocery stores, gas stations and other places as well, Environmental Health Director Shannon Thierrault said.

Harp suggested a definition of a store that only sold vaping products, nothing else.

If passed, Missoula would be the eighth county in Montana to have at least one city ban indoor vaping, after Yellowstone, Lewis and Clark, Lake, Carbon, Powell, Sanders, Granite and Wibaux counties.

None of those places exempt vape shops, Therriault said.

“I think it’s great that we are allowing private entities more control over their domain,” Ward 6 representative Michelle Cares said. “But this vape shop thing I don’t think is great.”