Missoula's new smoking ordinance was voted into law this month, setting off a chain of questions from the public and business owners.

Among the calls to the Missoula City-County Health Department, two questions are the most often asked: When does it start? Am I exempt?

First things first, says Holly Carnes, a health educator who works on tobacco issues at the health department. The ordinance takes effect Sept. 17 - 90 days after the health board's final vote on it - for all indoor public places and workplaces except restaurants and exempt businesses. The exemptions are bars, where liquor service is the primary business, and truck stops.

For restaurants, the ordinance takes effect Dec. 17, six months after its passage.

The ordinance, which went through many drafts during its 18 months of travel through an initial committee and three administrative bodies, has some people confused about businesses that are combinations. In a restaurant-and-bar combination, the established bar area is exempt from the ban, but the restaurant is not.

"What's happened is some people are wondering, 'Do we have an established area, or do we not have an established area?' " Carnes said. "Essentially, restaurants will have to go smoke-free."

Bars are areas where liquor service is the primary business, not food service.

Except for bars and truck stops, most of Missoula's 3,000 or so workplaces will be covered by the ordinance.

"Really," said Carnes, "there are no exceptions for a workplace."

The ordinance covers an area that extends in a circle 5 miles from the city limits. In some cases, exact determinations of whether a business is in or out will have to be made. The circle includes Lolo and the Y junction of Interstate 90 and Highway 93. It does not include Clinton.

Its boundaries are roughly just past Mormon Creek Road off Highway 93 south of Lolo, just north of Snowbowl ski area, just past the Y to the west and about 2 miles east of Milltown and 2 miles east of Bonner to the east.

"If people have questions about it," Carnes said, "we'll do site visits and help you figure it out."

Packets of information will go out to businesses during the first half of August. They'll include the ordinance, answers to some common questions, signs for doors, a notice for posting in employee break rooms and information about quit-smoking programs.

Businesses that are exempt - truck stops and the 111 establishments with liquor licenses in Missoula - will also be notified.

The process for penalties and fines has yet to be worked out. The ordinance carries a maximum fine of $100 per day that the ordinance is violated. The fine could be on a business owner who knowingly allows smoking to continue in his or her business, or it could be against an employee who flouts the law despite the employer's efforts - for instance, in an employee break room.

"Our first response will be a phone call or a letter," Carnes said. "It's an educational visit or letter."

There will not be any "smoking police" to enforce the ordinance. Unless a business is regularly inspected by sanitarians, chances are health department staff might never visit a business. Instead, they will investigate violations on a complaint basis.

For some businesses, the biggest change will be in workplace culture, Carnes said. Businesses where employees could smoke in break rooms will have to stop that practice and send employees outside. Some businesses may elect to create outdoor smoking areas, as both Missoula hospitals have.

"For the most part," Carnes said, "I don't think it'll be a big problem."

Wednesday - 6/30/99

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