For now, Ravalli County’s ban on e-cigarettes and vaping devices in indoor public places is on hold.
The Ravalli County Board of Health suspended the ban last week to give its members time to gather more information on the issue, following a meeting that offered varied views on the health impacts of electronic nicotine delivery devices.
In May, the board voted to include the devices in the county’s Clean Indoor Air ordinance in a 3-2 vote after a meeting that didn’t include any public comment other than from the county’s tobacco prevention specialist.
That decision was challenged by the owners of a Hamilton business that specializes in selling vaping supplies.
At the time, Ron Marshall of Freedom Vapes said the county had not done enough to let the community know the issue was being considered, and had made mistakes in posting meeting times online.
The board’s chair, Ravalli County Commissioner Jeff Burrows, said that while the board heard quite a lot of conflicting data on the health impacts of vaping, no one advocated for being allowed to use the devices in a public building.
“There was no one at the hearing who stood up and said, ‘By God, it’s my constitutional right to vape in the movie theater or at the grocery store,’” said Burrows.
Everyone also agreed that children and teens shouldn’t be allowed to access the product.
Burrows said the crux of the issue appeared to focus on whether people could sample the different varieties and flavors inside vape stores before making a purchase.
“The owners of the vape store said it would be a detriment to their business if their customers weren’t able to sample these vape juices inside their store,” Burrows said.
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It appears to Burrows that a simple fix to the issue would be to allow vaping inside a vape shop and ban it in other public places. He has asked the county attorney’s office for an opinion on whether an exemption could be made for vape shops.
“We want to try to find a common-sense approach,” he said. “We don’t want to force small businesses out of business, but we shouldn’t have people vaping in places where people don’t want it.”
Marshall said there are some things that could be done on the county and state level to address the issue of underage vaping.
“Our employees know that if they don’t ID someone underage and we find out about it, they are fired,” Marshall said.
Some underage users do find others to buy the product for them. That’s an issue that Marshall said should be addressed.
“There are penalties for people buying beer for underage kids, but there’s not an ordinance for that for the product we sell,” he said. “There’s no punishment because it’s something that’s new. I think an ordinance could be passed at the county level to address it. We plan to take it to the state.”
Underage users can also purchase the product online using pre-paid gift cards. That’s a more challenging issue to address, Marshall said.
The county health board formed a subcommittee that will consider options to address the Clean Indoor Air Act issue and potentially look at local options at keeping the products out the hands of underage kids.
The board suspended the ban on vaping in public buildings until August.