Montana bill from Trebas, others, tried to allow indoor smoking again

Sponsor: ‘This is Montana … not nanny-state California’

By: - February 8, 2023 5:31 pm

Jonathan Beaver of San Francisco holds a marijuana cigarette at the San Francisco Patients Cooperative, a medical cannabis cooperative, Nov. 29, 2004 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan | Getty Images)

Would you like to light up a ciggy and smoke indoors again? Or maybe a joint at your favorite bar?

If so, you’re out of luck, but Sen. Jeremy Trebas, R-Great Falls, gave it a shot.

“This is Montana,” Trebas said. “It’s not nanny-state California. Let’s be Montana.”

Opponents noted the bill would be Montana — a decade or two ago — and this week, the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee voted 9-0 to table the legislation.

In testimony last week, the one and only proponent called Senate Bill 205 a “freedom bill.”

“I’m not a fan of smoking, but what I am a fan of is freedom — and the freedom to choose,” said Deanna Marshall, who identified herself as a business owner.

(Marshall owns Freedom Vapes in Hamilton. Her spouse is Rep. Ron Marshall, R-Hamilton, also with Freedom Vapes.)

Others who spoke against the bill said legislators should actually strengthen instead of weaken the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act.

For example, it should include e-cigarettes, which weren’t around in 2005, a couple of opponents said. That’s when the Montana Legislature adopted the Clean Indoor Air Act, arguably the biggest fight of that session.

The act said all enclosed public spaces needed to be smoke-free by 2009, and bars feared they would go out of business, said Bill Warden, a legislator at the time.

The Montana Tavern Association feared its members would have no customers too, said Warden, now representing Bozeman Health and St. Peter’s Health.

“Conspicuously absent today is the Montana Tavern Association,” he said.

Chair Sen. Tom McGillvray, R-Billings, agreed.

McGillvray said he was in the legislature back then, and he noted the absence this year of bar and tavern owners as proponents for the bill. He noted it would open the door to tobacco cigarettes, cigars and marijuana pipes in public establishments.

Retired Helena physician Richard Sargent said 20 years ago, he and his partners published a study that showed a rapid drop in heart attacks after Helena adopted a clean indoor air ordinance.

If Montana reverses course, he said, workers, children and babies will suffer negative consequences.

“There’s no question there is a health effect of second-hand smoke,” Sargent said.

Representatives from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, the Montana Hospital Association, the Montana Medical Association, the Montana Primary Care Association, the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and others testified against the bill.

For 18 years, the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act has been protecting people, said Kristin Page-Nei. Instead of weakening it, she said legislators should prohibit people from using electronic smoking devices indoors, such as e-cigarettes.

“We advocate for everyone’s right to breathe smoke-free air so that no one is forced to choose between their health and their paycheck,” said Page-Nei, with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

Liz Albers, with the American Heart Association, said a 2021 survey among Montana voters showed 89% support the Clean Indoor Air Act, and just 10% oppose it. Plus, she said 81% support updating the law to prohibit e-cigarettes.

“It’s difficult to see a need or desire for Senate Bill 205,” Albers said.

Char Day, with Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, said 30 states and territories have passed clean indoor air protections, as have 1,159 municipalities — and none have abandoned them.

The measure’s other sponsors were Rep. Katie Zolnikov, R-Billings, Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, Sen. Chris Friedel, R-Billings, and Sen. Daniel Emrich, R-Great Falls.

In his close, Trebas addressed the opponents’ arguments point by point.

He said consumer preference and the free market would dictate whether smoking indoors would be allowed, and changes would be rare. 

“What right does the government have to be in the middle of decisions like these?” Trebas said.

He questioned the validity of polling presented, but he also said legislators aren’t bound by survey results. 

“Are we just going to defer to the tyranny of the majority every single time a poll is held?” Trebas said.

Although the committee tabled the bill, a couple of lawmakers said they had some concerns, too. For example, Sen. Becky Beard, R-Elliston, said she was a reluctant “no” vote.

She said she doesn’t like people telling her what she can and cannot do, and although she’d like to make her own choice about whether to patronize a business that allows smoking, society has changed, and now, marijuana is in the mix.

“It does nothing to allay my disdain for people who shame me, belittle me and tell me what I can and cannot do,” Beard said of her opposition.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.