New signs will soon be popping up in businesses around Yellowstone County.
The small turquoise, white and red placards affixed to public entrances will remind people that as of Thursday, no smoking or vaping is allowed inside public places or within 20 feet of entryways, doors or windows.
Letters were sent out to 7,200 businesses in advance of the March 1 enactment of a new rule finalized in December by the RiverStone Board of Health. In approving Rule No. 7 of the Rules and Regulations for Clean Indoor Air, the board enacted two new restrictions:
- Vaping, like smoking, will no longer be allowed inside public buildings in Yellowstone County.
- Individuals may not smoke or vape within 20 feet of public entryways, windows or ventilation systems to avoid secondhand smoke from drifting into public buildings.
That makes Yellowstone County one of 13 states and 710 local jurisdictions across the United States to prohibit indoor use of electronic nicotine delivery systems, according to statistics provided by RiverStone Health. Six other Montana counties have already restricted indoor vaping, including Lewis and Clark, Carbon, Powell, Sanders, Granite and Wibaux counties.
The new rule came out of work by the Public Policy Development Committee of the Board of Health, said Michael Dennis, the board’s immediate past chair.
"We now know a lot about the risks associated with second- or third-hand smoke and keeping smoke out of indoor places," Dennis said in an interview with new chair Joan Thullbery. "We believe protecting public health is our job, our responsibility."
The board held public hearings as part of the decision-making process, Dennis said. A wide range of business owners, representatives from the hospitals and other organizations were invited to attend.
Speakers came out both in favor and against the new rule. One concern voiced during the hearing was the original proposal to set the stand-back distance at 30 feet, which opponents felt wasn’t feasible.
“The public input had an effect on the final rule as it was drafted and as it’s been established,” Dennis said.
There were also complaints from vaping shop representatives who felt the rule would affect their business, Thullbery said. At the present, vaping businesses invite customers to come in and test their products.
That will change under the new rule.
"But it is complaint driven," she said.
The letter going out to businesses, written by RiverStone President and CEO John Felton, points out that research has shown use of e-cigarettes in public places “re-normalizes tobacco use among youth and may serve as a gateway to other tobacco products and substances.”
“The number of youth trying, and regularly using, e-cigarettes has skyrocketed,”said Felton, who is also the Yellowstone County Health Officer. “In Montana, nearly 47 percent of young people have tried electronic nicotine delivery products.”
Indoors, he said, the new rule protects the public “from emissions of aerosol, which contain ultrafine particles that are known to be toxic, can cause cancer, or lead to respiratory problems and heart disease.”
Along the same vein, tobacco use as a whole remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans each year. Almost 10 percent of those deaths are linked to second-hand smoke.
Regardless of the statistics, Thullbery knows change can be difficult. But enactment of the Montana Clean Indoor Act in 2005 proved that it’s possible.
“I think when it went into law it was very difficult and it’s become the norm now and it's changed smoking in this town," she said. "You can go into a bar and not smell smoke, which is great. I think this change will be the start of something that will ultimately be very good for all of us.”
The latest rule was developed in conjunction with the Yellowstone County Attorney’s office, Dennis said. As in the past, the new rule is complaint-driven, and complaints will be handled by RiverStone Health’s tobacco prevention specialists.
One misconception of the new rule, Dennis said, is that businesses are responsible for pedestrians smoking near their establishments as they walk down the sidewalk. Another is that the 20-foot stand-back distance will force smoking pedestrians out into the street.
“That’s nonsense,” he said. “Nobody’s asking them to walk out in the street. It’s not the reality of the situation.”
The person might technically be breaking the rule, he added, “but nobody is going to stop them and say, ‘Can I have your name so I can report you to RiverStone Health?’”
A fact sheet that accompanies Felton’s letter goes into detail about enforcement of Rule No. 7. Businesses comply by posting the visible signs supplied by RiverStone Health. An owner or manager is obligated to inform customers who violate the rule, or to file a complaint against the person.
Penalties for businesses that fail to comply are guilty of a misdemeanor after a third violation within a three-year period. They will be warned warned after the first violation, receive a written reprimand for the second, and get a $100 fine for a third violation, $200 for a fourth violation and $500 for a fifth or subsequent violation.
Individuals who violate Rule No. 7 are guilty of a misdemeanor and are subject to a fine of not less than $25 or more than $100. Those wanting to file a complaint can do so online, and questions can be directed to a tobacco prevention specialist at 247-3200.