Missoula wants to ban vaping and e-cigarette use indoors and allow business owners to ban smoking outdoors within 25 feet of their entrances.
If approved, the days of groups clouding the sanctuary of your favorite bar with clouds of vapor from their e-hookahs would be numbered. And drinking a fruity pint on the Dram Shop’s sidewalk seating could get a little less smoky, too.
The ordinance broadening the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act 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.
Dram Shop’s Elizabeth Hunter said they’ve had the occasional problem with smokers at their sidewalk seating, but generally people are respectful, and follow their signs asking patrons not to smoke.
“We do have a really nice patio and it’s nice for everyone to enjoy it,” Hunter said. “The biggest thing is being considerate of others.”
Banning smoking outside of a business is optional, according to the ordinance. It would be up to each business owner to put up signs and handle low-level enforcement. A $100 fine is possible and no jail time is allowed as a penalty.
“Really most people don’t smoke when they’re told not to smoke,” City-County Environmental Health Director Shannon Therriault told the Missoula City Council’s Public Safety and Health Committee on Wednesday.
The Montana Clean Indoor Air Act bans smoking inside enclosed spaces, but does not reflect the advent of vaping, or using e-cigarettes to smoke.
People can’t exactly just call the police on a smoker though, Therriault said. She’s spoken with city police and the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office and they don’t have the resources to patrol for unlawful smokers, or to come write up a ticket every time someone lights up at a city park.
“A policeman won’t come up and write a ticket,” Therriault said. “It could become trespass or disorderly conduct.”
Or, as Therriault mentioned to county commissioners last week, it could escalate into an altercation that would warrant calling the police.
“Smoking in an area,” Therriault told the commissioners, “could become an instigator of those further violations. The rule would very much place the enforcement responsibility on the managing entity.”
Ward 5 representative Julie Armstrong said the City-County Health Department has worked on a strengthened citywide smoking ban for a couple of years, specifically wanting to include some outdoor spaces — like curbside restaurant patios — and vaping.
“Our rules have been less stringent than the state's for years,” Armstrong said. “This gives them the opportunity and the choice to enforce it, which before there were no repercussions, no consequences for people smoking.”
A wrinkle in the ordinance proposes extending the law’s effect five miles around city limits, hence the commissioners’ involvement. They’ll decide whether to allow the extension after the council's approval.
The city council will hold a public hearing on the proposed smoking ordinance at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 26.