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April 28, 2021

Montana Legislature Approves Bill to Block Local Flavor Bans

The Montana legislature has passed a bill that would prevent local governments in the state from imposing flavor bans or otherwise restricting the sales of vaping products. The bill will now go to Governor Greg Gianforte, who is expected to sign it into law.

The bill, SB 398, passed the state house Monday by a 59-40 margin. It had already been approved by the senate earlier this month by a vote of 26-23. The governor, a conservative Republican, is expected to support it.

Senate Bill 398 amends an existing state law that contains a long list of restrictions on local government actions to include restrictions on vapor product sales. It says local Montana governments “may not adopt or enforce any local ordinance or resolution that prohibits the sale of alternative nicotine products or vapor products.” The bill does allow cities or counties to enact “reasonable ordinances or resolutions relating to the sale of alternative nicotine products or vapor products.”

The bill’s senate sponsor, Republican Jason Ellsworth, told the Helena Independent Record that he considers “reasonable ordinances” to mean common-sense rules like keeping vaping products out of the reach of children or banning vaping in public places.

Republican Representative Mike Hopkins, who sponsored the bill in the house, told the paper that local governments shouldn’t be allowed to ban legal products like flavored e-cigarettes, noting that such ordinances “smash the economic and financial lives of Montanans who are running businesses.”

The bill was a response by conservative lawmakers to a flavor ban passed last year (and now on hold) in the city of Missoula, and an unsuccessful attempt by former governor Steve Bullock to prohibit sales of flavored vaping products with a health department rule that bypassed the legislature. Bullock was also among the governors who passed a temporary flavor ban in response to the 2019 “EVALI” outbreak. (Gov. Bullock ran unsuccessfully for both the Democratic presidential nomination and the U.S. Senate in 2020.)

Lobbyists from anti-vaping organizations opposed SB 398, claiming the bill ignores widespread public concern over “an epidemic of youth e-cigarette use” in Montana. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids received a $160 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies in 2019 that was earmarked for passing legislation that would ban flavored vaping products across the country. Passage of the Montana bill will force them to lobby for flavor restrictions strictly at the state level.

Newly elected Montana representative (and vape shop owner) Ron Marshall sponsored a bill earlier this year that would have prevented locally enacted vaping prohibitions and also rules issued by the state health department or local health agencies. That bill passed the state house but was stopped in a senate committee.

Smokers created vaping without any help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and vapers have the right to keep innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I recently joined the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy
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