Havre Daily News
Havreites who smoke tobacco will soon have a more limited number of places in town to indulge in their habit.
A new state ban on smoking in public places takes effect Saturday, and the impending deadline has irked some citizens and brought cheers from others.
"It's just one more thing you can't do in this country," Earl Courtnage said between puffs at the Eagles Club Thursday night.
"I hate smoke - it bugs me," said Chris Brewer while he waited for food at the 4B's Restaurant with his friend, Jeremy Bolstad. Bolstad agreed that the ban is a good idea. He was recently in Seattle, where there is a similar law.
"It was nice not to have to smell the smoke," Bolstad said.
The law, passed by the state Legislature this year, bans tobacco smoking in all public places, except - temporarily - bars and casinos.
Linda Lee, acting section director for the Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program, said the law is a step forward for public health in the state. The state has yet to come up with the rules for enforcement of the law - a process that is ongoing and expected to be completed by the end of October. Lee said she and other tobacco-free advocates will spend the coming weeks educating businesses and the public about the change.
"What we ended up with is language that needs to be interpreted," Lee said. "The law is not very well-written. It leaves way too much up to interpretation.
"We can't be issuing citations, but we can and should be doing education about the law," she added. "In the meantime, we are encouraging every business to go smoke-free. That's the wisest decision to protect employees, customers and everyone else."
Lee said the law will affect about 90 percent of the businesses in Montana. In addition, tobacco use will no longer be permitted on any school property.
"We're trying to create a healthy example for children," she said.
The law does provide a four-year exemption for bars and casinos. Under the law, anyone under 18 may not be allowed into an establishment that still permits smoking. That will create a choice for some bar owners who rent space out to wedding receptions or other celebrations where children are typically present, said Jay Schuschke, who is a prevention specialist with the HELP Committee. Those businesses will have to choose between allowing tobacco use and allowing children.
Eagles Club manager Tom Farnham said the club would bar minors from the establishment except for special celebrations. Those events will be held in a separate section that is partitioned off from the rest of the club. He said he is still awaiting details from the state on how the law will work.
"I'm still open to suggestions," Farnham said. "We're still not totally set in stone."
Schuschke said the area of the law that deals with such situations is still open to interpretation, though he said the ban makes it clear that there must be no infiltration of smoke from bars and casinos into the nonsmoking areas.
Farnham said he agrees with the purpose of the law, and that he doesn't judge smokers on their habit.
"I understand they're doing it for the safety and health of the younger ones," he said. "I don't criticize anybody who smokes. That's their choice."
Some of Farnham's customers Thursday night didn't agree with the law and they are grimly awaiting the end of the four-year grace period for bars and casinos.
Kurt Shulund, in between cigarettes and a few pool games, said he agrees that protecting children's health is a good idea but thinks tobacco-free advocates have gone far enough. He said anti-smoking groups have used children's health to push for the ban.
"The anti-smoking campaign has been attacking this issue any way they could for years and years," Shulund said. "Putting a kid's face on this is inappropriate. It is a parent's choice where they take their kids, and it should be left at that."
The government is overstepping its bounds,he added.
"I don't think the government should be able to legislate how somebody runs their own private business," Shulund said. People should be able to choose between going to businesses that are smoke-free or those that allow smoking, he said. "I'm personally ashamed of my government for kowtowing to interest groups, for giving into the vocal minority's pressures. It's a vocal minority that keeps pushing this."
Kathy Pheles, an Eagles customer who does not smoke, said the law will hurt businesses.
"People like to go drink coffee and smoke," she said. "They're not going to be able to do that. I don't think it's going to fly."
She said the ban will make life easier for those with respiratory illnesses.
"To me, it doesn't really matter," Pheles said. "For some guy with asthma - it's going to matter."
Hill County Tavern Association and 4B's general manager Maxine Munson said she will attend a public hearing today to learn more about the law and how it will be enforced. The hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in Room 202 of the Hagener Science Building at Montana State University-Northern. It will be a videoconference linked to other sites across the state.
The restaurant is prepared for the smoke-free switch, Munson said. The Black Angus Casino will continue to allow smoking. The door connecting the casino with the eatery will be closed at all times to keep the areas separate, she said.
"I'm just fine with it," Munson said of the law.
A few of her waitresses agree.
"I hate the smell of smoke," 4B's waitress Terra Otto said. "I don't like coming home smelling like smoke."
"It will be more fair for the waitresses," she added. The server who handles the smoking section usually sees fewer customers - meaning less in tips, Otto said.
"It'll make our jobs easier on us, because it will be more efficient," said Casey Tribby, another 4B's waitress. Servers will not have to worry about seating customers in different sections, which means customers may get tables faster, she added.
Some 4B's customers were happy with the law, while others weren't.
"I think it's a good idea," Sam Jones said.
"I don't think much of that," said Dave Waldner, another customer at the table. "They've got an area for smokers."
Smoker Friendly cashier Lisa Zumbrun said she and the store manager still have questions as to whether the law will apply to the First Street shop. The store doesn't allow minors. She said she would disagree with the law if it required the store to be smoke-free.
"I think it's stupid. It's a cigarette store. Why can't you smoke?" Zumbrun said.
Smokers often step inside the store during winter months to warm up and take a few puffs, Zumbrun said.
She thinks the government may be coming down too hard on smokers.
"Smokers are the only ones penalized," Zumbrun said.