Brett Myers, Freedom Vapes

Brett Myers, a Freedom Vapes sales rep in Bozeman, said he was a heavy smoker at one time and turning to vape was the best way for him to quit tobacco products like cigarettes. On Thursday, the Gallatin City-County Board of Health approved weaving electronic nicotine devices into its Clean Indoor Air Act policy.

As of this morning, people who vape in Gallatin County need to take it outside.

On Thursday, the Gallatin City-County Board of Health approved weaving electronic nicotine devices into its Clean Indoor Air Act policy, joining 10 other Montana counties to ban using the vape products inside.

The rule is immediately in place despite pushback from local vape shop owners who say it will hurt their business where customers try the product before they buy it.

“You can’t try before you buy if you were to buy these products at convenience stores or other outlets just like you can’t try cigarettes in a smoke shop or beer in a grocery store,” said health board member Buck Taylor.

Breaking the rule is a misdemeanor with a fine anywhere between $25 and $100. Shop owners caught three times or more within three years face a fine between $100 and $500 depending on how many violations they have.

Taylor said the change isn’t an attempt to stamp out vaping in the county but to protect those who don’t want to breathe it in.

It passed 7-2. Those against the change said evidence of the dangers of second-hand vaping remains thin.

One of the no votes came from Gallatin County Commissioner Joe Skinner who said the Clean Indoor Act came from state lawmakers and changes to the law should come from Helena. He added the law was to protect air, not prevent tobacco use.

Justin Kamerman was the second vote against the policy change. The board didn’t take public comment on the issue, citing previous meetings with a chance for people to share their views and the policy change public comment period.

Those who supported the change touted vape’s potential harm and the evidence it can act as a gateway to cigarettes.

Matt Kelley, county health officer, walked the board through the nation’s timeline of moving smoke outdoors. He cited the national 2016 Surgeon General report that called on state and local programs to prevent youth and young adults from using tobacco in any form, including e-cigarettes.

He said one-in-four high school students reported using e-cigarettes in local health surveys.

“It’s a significant problem in Gallatin County,” he said. “I think five or 10 years from now we may look back at this moment like we look back at 1964 and say it’s hard to believe there was a time we didn’t really believe that cigarettes are bad for you.”

Other county health staff said the evidence of e-cigarettes harm varies from study to study because of the lack of federal oversight of the product.

“I don’t see public vaping a lot but it is there … I think we forget the second-hand smoke piece of smoking because it’s been gone so long,” Board Chair Becky Franks said.

Franks is also the executive director of the Cancer Support Community in Bozeman. She pointed to other places in Montana that have similar policies before adding, “This is in our legal authority to do this.”

As she talked, a woman in the crowd said, “We’ll find out.”

That was Deanna Marshall, who owns three Montana vape shops called Freedom Vape with her husband. Two of their shops are in Gallatin County. She said their attorney is ready to take the issue to court.

“It’s going to probably shut us down. Our business is based on people sampling and being able to try it in the store. We will be suing Gallatin County,” she said.

Marshall said the ordinances were enacted in other places without a fight. The family’s third shop is in Ravalli County, which passed a similar resolution before pushback from the Marshalls and others convinced the local health board to roll back its ban.

Yellowstone County’s indoor vaping ban took effect in March. That’s the same month Missoula also extended the Clean Indoor Air Act.

The Gallatin County board first held a meeting on the idea in September and left public comment open through Oct. 18.

Kelley said the new rule comes down to social enforcement, meaning it will be complaint-driven.

“We’re not going to be going out, busting down doors looking for vaping,” Kelley said.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

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