The smokes lit up in public places in Missoula during the next 180 days will be the last.
It's the law: The Missoula City-County Health Board on Thursday supplied the final vote needed to seal Missoula's ban on smoking in indoor public places. The exceptions are truck stops and bars - either stand-alone taverns or areas within businesses where the serving of liquor is primary.
The ordinance will take effect in 90 days for all places except for restaurants that do not have liquor licenses; those restaurants will have 180 days before the ban.
The health board's vote was unanimous, but several members supported the ordinance reluctantly because of the exemptions.
"I think we all realize how difficult it is to vote for a public health measure that ignores the people most at risk," said board member Hal Braun, a retired physician. "The employees of those places are probably the ones who have the least option to change jobs."
The ordinance, more than 18 months in the making, took its first form as an across-the-board ban on public smoking passed by the health board in November. The board acted in the interest of protecting the public from secondhand tobacco smoke, which contains 43 known carcinogens and kills an estimated 53,000 people a year. Its members were especially interested in protecting workers.
However, after spending a winter's worth of Wednesday afternoons in the Missoula City Council's Public Safety and Health Committee, the ordinance metamorphosed into a ban with exceptions. The council heard testimony from business owners who felt the economic impact would be dramatic if they went smoke-free.
The Missoula County Commissioners approved the ordinance last week, also with reservations about the exemptions.
City Council member Andy Sponseller, who's also on the health board, said the issue becomes much more complicated when politics enter, especially when a substance is legal and addictive.
"We know there are carcinogenic compounds, and we know there's definitely a health impact," he said. "But there are political aspects to this."
The ordinance is the best possible, all things considered, he said.
Health Department director Ellen Leahy supported the compromise ordinance, as did Linda Lee, who works for the American Lung Association of the Northern Rockies and helped craft the original ordinance.
"We strongly recommend that you approve this," Lee said. "It's a very strong public health protection. Thousands of workers will be protected, as well as patrons in restaurants."
Board member Judi Chapman had misgivings about the ordinance and will work as a committee of one to look into whether the health board or Health Department staff should start working on a stronger ordinance.
"I want to support this," she said of the ordinance, "but I want to be sure it's looked at as just the beginning in the struggle against secondhand smoke."
Sponseller, however, said the process should stop. Government should act in good faith instead of leading opponents of the ordinance down a road of betrayal once they believe the ordinance is final.
"I'd like to stand by the ordinance as it is," he said. "I'm not interested in a progressive situation. … I think we should say what we want now and act on it. I just don't want to create this slippery slope deal."
Kevin Head, an owner of the Rhinoceros bar who worked on the ordinance throughout the process, agreed in an interview after the meeting.
"He was right on with that," Head said. "I just what to applaud him. It's too bad that after all this process, they would try to bypass it. After a year and a half of doing this, I thought it would end."
Leahy said that Health Department staff is contacting 117 establishments where definitions need to be made regarding liquor service. About 100 are sorted out, and four or five have been identified where the line will be difficult to draw.
"We'll be speaking with these owners," she said.