The Missoula City Council is poised to take another crack at revising the city’s smoking ordinance next month, nearly two years after kicking the issue back to city-county health officials. According to a resolution adopted by Missoula’s health board on Jan. 17, the revisions are aimed at expanding the smoking ban to include outdoor public spaces and the use of e-cigarettes.
“We’ve been working on it for over a year and a half now,” says Kaila Warren, the health department’s tobacco prevention program coordinator. “In fact, the previous director of environmental [health] was tasked to get the smoking ordinance up to date about two and a half years ago. So this is not something that’s just happened overnight.”
Missoula’s smoking ordinance has been on the books since the 1990s. But after the passage of the Montana Indoor Clean Air Act in 2005, city officials noted a need to update the law to better match the more stringent provisions applied by the Legislature. Over time that effort has come to include smoking prohibitions in city-owned playgrounds, picnic shelters, band shells and bleachers. Warren attributes those expansions largely to longstanding frustrations among parks staff about the social and environmental effects of tobacco use.
“Kids use those parks, so we’re really kind of protecting them against secondhand smoke exposure and modeling those tobacco-free norms,” Warren says. “Aside from that, on a bit of an environmental standpoint, having smoke-free parks really cuts back on cigarette butts … and reduces the risk of fires.”
Michelle Cares, chair of City Council’s Public Health and Safety Committee, says the draft presented this month by the health department is drastically different from the one she saw in summer 2016. The current approach answers many of the questions that came up during the committee’s discussions last time around, and, Cares adds, appropriately places some enforcement responsibility in the hands of individual business managers when it comes to smoking in outdoor dining areas.
“We don’t want a John Doe to see someone smoking as they’re driving by and call the police on them,” she says, “and we also don’t want the manager of [a cafe] to just call the police without ever talking to people who are smoking at one of their tables.”
According to Cares, the ordinance revisions will come before the public health and safety committee Feb. 7. Adding to the complexity of the changes, however, is the health department’s recommendation that those changes be applied in a five-mile radius beyond city limits, which will require approval by the county commission. Commissioner Dave Strohmaier doesn’t recall a time in his tenure with the county or on council that this type of extraterritorial issue has come up. He says it’s still unclear how enforcement would be handled outside the city, but he’s strongly in favor of taking up the issue.
“As someone whose father was a smoker and died of lung cancer, I’m very sensitive to the reality that tobacco products are real health threat,” Strohmaier says.