Casey Mack puffs on a Therion DNA 166 vaporizer with a SMOK TFV8 Cloud Beast Tank at Juicity Vapor in Billings on July 13. Mack reports that he stopped smoking and instead started vaping in search of an alternative healthier than cigarettes.

REBECCA NOBLE, Gazette Staff

For the past eight years, Lewis and Clark County has worked to keep tobacco smoke and e-cigarette vapors out of indoor public places. The county’s health board implemented the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act by including e-cigarette aerosol and vapors in the definition of smoking, and required that smoking be kept “a reasonable distance” from entrances and vents so it doesn’t infiltrate buildings open to the public.

A county health department spokeswoman in Helena told The Gazette there have been only two complaints since Jan. 1. “We go on complaint status, we don’t go around looking for violations,” she said. “We work hard with the establishment to help them comply.”

Under the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act, which the Legislature approved in 2005 after public opinion polls showed overwhelming Montana support for smoke-free workplaces and public buildings, county health departments are responsible for enforcement and county health boards develop rules.

This is important in Yellowstone County now because our health board, the RiverStone Health Board, has proposed a rule that would add e-cigarette emissions to the definition of smoking. The proposed Yellowstone County rule also would require that outdoor smoking be at least 30 feet from entrances and vents of buildings open to the public to prevent smoke or vapor from getting into the indoor air.

The Gazette supports the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act as a public health measure that reduces the risk of tobacco-related illnesses, especially among nonsmokers. The unhealthy effects of smoking have been documented for decades.

Research conclusively showing whether e-cigarettes and vaping cause serious health problems hasn’t been done yet. But it is known that the liquids used with e-cigarettes contain nicotine. When heated, other chemicals in the vaping liquids form compounds known to be toxic.

The 2016 U.S. Surgeon General’s report on e-cigarettes said:

  • E-cigarettes and other products containing nicotine pose a danger for youth, pregnant women and fetuses. Youth use of nicotine, including in e-cigarettes, is unsafe.
  • Secondhand exposure to e-cigarettes is not harmless; it contains nicotine and other harmful constituents. The nicotine contained in aerosol can cause addiction and have neurotoxic effects on the adolescent brain.

At a public hearing last month, several opponents of the health board rule defended e-cigarettes as healthy and credited vaping with allowing them to stop smoking regular cigarettes. Vape shop owners testified that they started their Billings businesses to help others quit smoking cigarettes.

Despite any such good intentions, the vaping industry is using the same tactics as Big Tobacco used for generations – and still uses – to entice youth to try their products.

This year’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the state health department found that 46 percent of Montana students in grades 8, 10 and 12 had tried vaping, and that 22 percent had used electronic vapor products within 30 days of answering the survey. By contrast, the proportion of Montana students who said they had ever smoked was 33 percent and only 12 percent said they had smoked in the month before the survey. As Montana youth have stopped smoking, they have started vaping.

Lewis and Clark County isn’t alone in working to keep e-cigarette vapors out of indoor air. Carbon, Powell, Sanders and Granite counties have the same rule on e-cigarettes indoors. Seven states, including North Dakota, California and Hawaii prohibit e-cigarette use in their clean indoor air laws. Several hundred U.S. counties and cities have ordinances against vaping where smoking is prohibited.

With the growing popularity of e-cigarettes, it’s high time for Yellowstone County to apply the indoor smoking ban to e-cigarettes, too.

Regarding the 30-foot rule proposed, research shows that smoke can be detected 30 feet from a smoker. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that smoke (or vapor) is getting inside the nearby building. The Lewis and Clark County rule of “reasonable distance” would serve Yellowstone County well, too. For example, if smoke drifts inside from a particular smoking patio and there’s a complaint filed, RiverStone would work with the business to figure out a no-smoking area that resolved the problem. If employees and customers are smoking at the door of a business, it may be necessary to designate a smoking area farther from the door. The objective is to keep indoor air smoke- and vapor-free for workers and the public.

We encourage the RiverStone Board of Health to adopt the proposed rule to include e-cigarettes in the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act and recommend that the proposal on limiting outdoor smoking be changed from 30 feet to “reasonable distance.”

The board is expected to have the clean air proposal on its July 27 agenda. The meeting starts at 7 a.m. at RiverStone Health, at First Avenue North and South 27th Street. If approved, the rule change would take effect later this year. RiverStone would need to reach out to businesses to educate them on the rule. Communication and education will be important to maximize clean air and minimize complaints.