HELENA — After it narrowly passed the Senate, the Montana House of Representatives is now considering a bill that would prohibit local governments from making rules about the sale of electronic cigarettes.
Senate Bill 398, sponsored by Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, does not prohibit local governments from enacting “reasonable restrictions,” but would stop them from banning sales of “alternative nicotine products or vapor products.”
Ellsworth said it was time for the Legislature to step in after Missoula banned the sale of flavored vapor products in November.
“I believe in local control – and I truly do – but it is our job as the Legislature – as a body – to pass laws,” Ellsworth said.
He said municipalities were taking too much control away from the legislature.
Eleven supporters mostly representing vape shops said the bill would save their businesses.
“The city and county representatives in Missoula have made their own ordinance to ban flavored vape juice. These products add up to about 76% of my juice sales,” said Tommie Dobbs, a co-owner of Liberty Vapor Smoke in Missoula.
Tim Andrews spoke on behalf of Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington D.C.-based lobbying organization, in support of the bill.
“The question is who is best to regulate public health issues? Is it the state legislature?” Andrews asked, “or is it unaccountable local bureaucrats?”
Jean Branscum of the Montana Medical Association was one of 18 opponents who spoke against the bill.
“We want to protect our pregnant women,” Branscum said. “We want to protect the unborn. We want to protect our young adults.”
Many of the opponents raised concerns over children getting hooked on flavored nicotine products that they say are marketed toward kids. Others argued that the bill was an example of state government meddling in municipality’s affairs.
Dr. Colette Kirschhoff is a family physician in Bozeman.
“I just want to stress how important it is for us to be able to determine our own decisions locally using sound, scientific evidence-based knowledge,” Kirschhoff said.
James Bradley is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.