The Missoula City Council will vote Monday on a flavored tobacco ordinance that prohibits the sale of flavored electronic tobacco products and self-serve access to all tobacco products, after council's Public Safety and Health Committee approved Wednesday amendments to a proposed ordinance which previously sought to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products in the city.
On Wednesday, the Public Safety and Health Committee approved the amendments in a 9-2 vote with Councilor Jesse Ramos absent and Councilors Sandra Vasecka and John Contos voting against the changes. The ordinance will go before council for final consideration on Monday, Nov. 23.
The changes to the proposed ordinance came after extensive public comment and criticism by some, including the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce, who said the ban was too broad and would harm local businesses. The ordinance aims to prevent youth access to and use of tobacco and nicotine, and is sponsored by council members Mirtha Becerra, Gwen Jones, Stacie Anderson, Heidi West and Julie Merritt.
Becerra said the new ordinance focuses on flavored electronic tobacco products because they come in an array of flavors and packaging that she said is targeted to children.
"The ability of children to conceal and use these products anywhere, including parks, playgrounds, and schools, makes it incredibly difficult to control," she said. "In response to that, this amended ordinance has narrowed its scope to address what we know for a fact is an epidemic in Missoula and requires attention."
The amended ordinance also includes a section that clarifies penalties for any person who unlawfully sells or gives any tobacco product to a minor, and a severability clause so that parts of the ordinance could continue to be enforced independently if any part of the ordinance was challenged in court. That change came after representatives of the tobacco industry and some local business owners questioned the legality of the ban and noted that the state's "Youth Access to Tobacco Products Control Act" states that a local government can adopt regulations that are "no more stringent" than those imposed by the state.
"I think we're all trying to have an ordinance that we can enforce that will stand up in court," Jones said Wednesday. "That will truly have an effect on stopping the youth vaping epidemic and trying to address that issue."
The committee also voted Wednesday against an amendment Vasecka proposed to omit the section banning the sale of flavored electronic tobacco products in an 8-3 vote with councilors Contos, Harp and Vasecka voting in support of omitting the section, and Ramos absent.
"What this is doing is leaving the adults who have successfully reduced or even stopped their smoking habit completely in the dust," Vasecka said. "This is a huge win for big tobacco...This will absolutely push all the people who use the e-products back to cigarettes."
Merritt, who opposed the motion, said adults can still get flavored electronic tobacco products online and said "We're not forcing them to go back to regular tobacco products."
A number of community members commented in support and in opposition of the amended ordinance Wednesday, including business owners who would be impacted by the ordinance.
Meredith Berkman, co-founder of a national advocacy group called Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes, asked the committee on Wednesday to stick with the ordinance as it was originally proposed and to ban all flavored e-cigarettes and all flavored tobacco products.
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