Smoking ban progressing smoothly
November 3, 2009
Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]
The ban on smoking in taverns and casinos seems to be going smoothly with little problems in the bars, tobacco prevention specialist Jay Schuschke said Monday. “I cover Hill and Blaine counties, and we have not had any complaints as of yet,” he said. The ban was the last phase of the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act, passed by the Montana Legislature in 2005. It requires all enclosed public and work places to be smoke free to not allow smoking and to prominently place signs letting patrons and employees know smoking is not allowed. The smoking ban on bars and casinos was phased in, with the ban taking effect Oct. 1 of this year. According to the state government's Smokefree Montana Web site, the law was intended to reduce health problems such as heart attack, lung disease including lung cancer, other debilitating and fatal illnesses, and protect unborn children and young chilDren from exposure to second-hand smoke. The ban will provide three primary benefits, the site says: Patrons and workers will be protected from the health effects of second-hand smoke exposure; more people who smoke will try to quit; and fewer Montana youths will begin smoking. Tom Farnham, the president of the Hi-Line Tavern Association, said Monday that some local establishments saw a drop in traffic when the ban went into effect Oct. 1, but business seems to be picking back up. “It is getting better every day,” he said. “It was kind of slow for some of the places (at first), but people are gradually adapting to going outside.” Farnham, also the manager of the Eagles Club in Havre, said sometimes people have lit cigarettes in the Eagles, but put them out when reminded of the ban. “It happens now and then, and the people are just kind of embarrassed because they forget,” he said. He said the same happened over the Halloween weekend. “I had a very busy weekend (at the Eagles),” Farnham said. “We had to remind a couple of people, and they complied.” Schuschke said Montana modeled the implementation of its tavern and casino ban after programs run by other states which have had good success. Montana is the 18th state to completely ban indoor smoking in public and work places. “(The state government) expected that compliance would by high and complaints would be low,” he said. So far, that seems to be true. Schuschke said he attended a meeting with state officials last week and, at that time, only 28 complaints had been filed statewide. “It's good to see that compliance is so high,” he said. In most states implementing the ban, the number of complaints have been few about 50 in the first month for states with more than twice the population of Montana and the complaints tend to drop off sharply in the first few months, Schuschke said. Montana is using a citizen-based enforcement program. People with complaints about smoking in areas where it is banned file a complaint online, by telephone or by using a paper form. The people making the complaint must provide their name or contact information. Once a complaint is received, the tobacco prevention specialist covering the region where the complaint was made must make sure it is an “actionable complaint.” That includes the specialist confirming that the person listed as having made the complaint did file it and that the area the complaint was made about actually is one the ban covers. Only one complaint will be acted upon in a two-week period, to prevent problems such as multiple complaints being filed about the same incident or a specific business being targeted for complaints. Schuschke said other complaints filed during that period will be used as evidence on the complaint acted upon. If the complaint is actionable, the Hill County government has implemented a phased-in process, starting with letters to let the establishment bars and casinos and any other space to which the ban applies know complaints are being filed. Schuschke said the first three complaints will result in letters being sent to the establishment first a “letter of education,” then a “letter of warning” and finally a “letter of reprimand.” If a fourth complaint is filed, the matter will be turned over to the county attorney to consider filing a criminal charge. Schuschke said the criminal actions will be a series of fines. The first will be a $100 fine, the second a $200 fine, and the third and any subsequent complaints will result in a $500 fine. Complaints can be filed at the state Smokefree Montana Web site, http:// tobaccofree.mt.gov, or by calling 1(866) 787-5247. Schuschke said resources also are available for people who wish to quit smoking, including the Montana Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800 QUIT NOW, or 1 (800) 784-8669.