Krista Corner Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
In many metropolises, smokers visiting lounges and restaurants are already stepping outside to curb their urge, no matter the weather. A Montana law limiting smoking in public eateries and watering holes, which was passed in 2005 and implemented in January of 2006, offered some exceptions to allow for transition, but those will expire in September of next year. As the deadline for clean indoor air approaches, local officials have been discussing enforcement issues. According the Montana Annotated Code Web site, the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act, MCA 50-40-104, states that smoking in enclosed public places is prohibited, except in bars, casinos and in bar/restaurant combinations, as long as the smoke from the bar does not infiltrate into areas where smoking is prohibited under this law, and also states that anyone under 18 may not enter businesses that allow smoking, unless the smoke does not filter into the non-smoking areas. That exception for bars, casinos and bar/restaurant combinations expires Sept. 30, 2009. Enforcement of the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act has been difficult, according to Hill County Sanitarian Clay Vincent. "The biggest problem with this law is that it has some real gray areas and it comes back on the local jurisdictions having to enforce it," Vincent said Wednesday. "It is difficult to understand and some places think they can have a little corner for smoking in the bar and still allow all ages of people. That is not something that is legal to do." Vincent said if a bar, casino or bar/restaurant allows smoking, the management must not allow people under 18-years-old, with no exception. "We do have some places in town ... when they have these functions like funerals and weddings they think they can allow kids. They just turn the light off and on depending on the situation. You either (allow kids) or you don't." Because enforcement is made difficult by the gray areas of the law, Vincent said that if the business tries to separate the smoking and non-smoking areas, the health department is a little lenient. "It has been a very difficult thing to get after people on, because there is a number of things going on," he said. "If a business is at least trying to separate them, we won't do to much because they will have to change it soon anyway." Vincent was referring to the October 2009 deadline when the Clean Indoor Air Act goes into effect full force, and smoking in any public place will be prohibited. Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line prevention specialist Jay Schuschke said the exceptions to the law somehow became muddled since the passing of the law. "Since then, there has been some confusion as to what that (exception) meant," he said. "The truth is if you have a bar and restaurant, there is not supposed to be any infiltration (of smoke). If there is, then no one under 18 is allowed to be in the bar or the restaurant. As far as enforcing (the law) goes, that has become very difficult across the state, not just in Hill County." As for whether or not a bar can pick and choose which days are meant for smoking and which for non-smoking, Schuschke said the law does not provide for certain non-smoking hours. "The law does not create any provisions for smoking hours," he said. "In other words, having smoking on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and non-smoking Thursdays and Fridays it is 100 percent of the time and 24 hours a day. The law reads that no one under the age of 18 can be present at those events. The reason those places are allowed to do that is that the enforcement clause is confusing and difficult. There just hasn't been any enforcement." The local VFW Club, which hosts a dinner on Wednesday nights as well as wedding and funeral receptions where children are allowed went completely non-smoking on July 20, though not necessarily because of the law. VFW member Bob Rice, mayor of Havre, said several reasons lie behind the board's decision to make the VFW Club non-smoking, but the most important reason was to make the Legion Auxiliary members feel at home. Another reason Rice gave was so that kids could legally come to dinners, weddings and funerals with their families. While smoking was still part of the VFW Club's atmosphere, kids were not allowed in, he said. Rice added that several VFW Club members who wear oxygen masks had told him if the smoking was discontinued they would opt to visit the VFW more. "We figured we were in pretty rough shape financially, so we might as well go for broke and stop the smoking, and see what happened," Rice said. "We hope the ladies will come back and I think they will. We also hope more of the general public will come in now." With some Havre establishments currently comPlying to the full extent of the law and some still allowing smoking, the day when smoking is prohibited in any public place is imminent. Those establishments hanging on to their smoking rights until the end are faced with whether or not the coming ban will hurt their investment. "I feel that it is going to slow things down at first, but within six months everything will be back to normal," said manager of the Havre Eagles Club, Tom Farnham.. "If they feel the need to smoke, I have room for a small patio and they can go outside, get some fresh air and have a smoke." Owner of the Golden Spike Tammy Farmer said she was uncertain about the future affect on her establishment. "I really don't know yet. It's not concrete," she said. "I don't think its going to affect me, because for one I don't see how the city of Havre is going to have the man power to enforce it." For more information on the law, enforcement issues or other non-smoking issues, contact Jay Schuschke at the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line at 265-6206, Hill County Sanitarian Clay Vincent at 265-5481 or visit the Web at http://mt.gov/.