After hearing conflicting data on the pros and cons of the health impacts of vaping, the Ravalli County Board of Health decided this week to officially pull back from its ban on the use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices in indoor public places.
Ravalli County Commissioner Jeff Burrows said that didn’t mean the board was swayed one way or the other.
“We didn’t want to become the trailblazers on this issue and set a precedent,” Burrows said. “We decided to give the Legislature a shot and see if they will give us some direction.
“What it really came down to are the legality and liability of it,” Burrows said. “We heard a lot of discussion on the health effects of vaping. We were getting inundated from both sides. Our decision was not a matter on whether vaping was healthy or not healthy.”
Last May, the board voted to include the devices in the county’s Clean Indoor Act ordinance following a 3-2 vote. That decision was challenged by the owners of a Hamilton business that specializes in selling vaping supplies.
The board then put the ban on hold while it gathered more information.
At the time of the initial decision, Ron and Deanna Marshall of Freedom Vapes said the ban would hurt their business by not allowing customers to sample different varieties inside their shop.
Ron Marshall said the couple was happy with the board’s decision this week.
“After hearing all the evidence and arguments back and forth, the board decided to remove any language relating to vaping or e-cigarettes for the county’s clean indoor act ordinance,” Marshall said. “We’re back to where we started. They decided to leave it up to the legislators, which is where it needs to be.”
As it stands, county business owners will be able to make the decision on whether or not electronic nicotine delivery devices are allowed in their establishments.
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The Marshalls anticipate that the state Legislature will further clarify issues surrounding the use of the devices in the upcoming session.
In 2015, Deanna Marshall said the Legislature passed a law that officially separated vape products from tobacco. It was also the first state in the nation that set an age limit of 18 for alternative nicotine products.
“We have been ahead of the curve,” Deanna Marshall said. “We thoroughly expect that the Legislature will revisit this issue.”
Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, believes there will be a push to clarify vague language in the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act, including whether local businesses should be the decision makers on whether the products can be used inside their buildings.
“The only way vape shops can sell it is for their customers to have a place to try it,” Ballance said. “They should have an exception.”
Considering the large amount of money Montana spends every year trying to get people to quit using tobacco products, Ballance said there should be some consideration made for a product that may help people kick the habit.
“If you look at the Clean Indoor Air Act for Montana, much of its language is vague,” she said. “It leaves some things undefined. In some cases, some people are penalized and others not for the same offense.”
For instance, Ballance said vape stores face financial penalties if they sell to someone under 18. At the same time, if someone over that age comes in and buys the product and then turns around and provides it to an underage person, there is no penalty.
Ballance intends to carry legislation to address that issue.
“There are loopholes in the law that need to be fixed,” she said. “They need to be clarified on the state level rather than force those decisions on counties.”