By Rhonda Petersen
Havre doesn't need an ordinance restricting smoking in public places, the City Council's Ordinance Committee decided Monday night.
Members agreed that business owners already do a good job of limiting smoking in their establishments. They also said they would oppose any effort to ban smoking in bars and casinos.
Council member Gary Schubert introduced the subject, telling committee members that several people and the Hill County Tavern Association had asked him to look into a possible ordinance.
Council member and Eagles Club manager Tom Farnham, who is not a member of the committee, told the committee that the tavern association would like to see an ordinance on the books establishing a grandfather clause for smoking in existing bars and casinos. The idea would be to protect the owners' rights to determine whether to allow smoking in their own establishments. The tavern association's fear is that a smoking policy similar to Helena's would lead to lost revenue for their members' businesses.
Two years in the making, the Helena ordinance flatly prohibits smoking in all indoor public places, including bars, restaurants and casinos even tobacco shops. Fines up to $100 can be levied against any business that fails to enforce the ban and any smoker who refuses to comply. Since the ordinance went into effect, quarterly gaming revenues collected within the Helena city limits have dropped 10 percent from last year's totals while gaming revenue in East Helena, where public smoking in bars and casinos is still permitted, has seen a 33 percent increase.
Schubert said that if Havre were to establish a smoking ordinance it would not be like the Helena ordinance, which was adopted by Helena voters in June.
Council member Doug Larson added that any smoking ordinance should have provisions allowing smoking in bars and casinos.
Council president Rick Pierson, who said he's the only smoker on the council, expressed doubt about the need to pursue a smoking ordinance for Havre. Pierson said local establishments already have their own smoking guidelines.
Schubert said some restaurants could do a better job of posting signs clearly stating their smoking policies.
The committee examined the smoking ordinance of the city of Great Falls as a possible model. The Great Falls ordinance allows smoking in existing bars, casinos, and restaurants but bans smoking in newly established restaurants. The ordinance also establishes a provision for the existing smoking policy of an establishment to be transferred to the new owners if a bar or restaurant is sold.
Council member Emily Mayer said that while she understood the health ramifications of smoking she also didn't think a smoking ordinance was needed at this time.
Pierson said the committee should not open up a can of worms and create potential problems where none exist.
He noted that no one had appeared before the committee to ask for an ordinance restricting smoking.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.