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Are Great Falls 'smoke shacks' violating the Clean Indoor Air Act?

A group of Great Falls health advocates are accusing at least nine bars and casinos in that city of not being in compliance with Montana’s Clean Indoor Air Act.

The law prohibits smoking in public buildings and fully went into effect in 2009.

At issue are so-called ‘smoke shacks’ attached to the casinos. These ventilated rooms allow people to smoke, drink and use gaming machines. Bar owners are open-air vents in the rooms make them technically not indoor, enclosed, spaces.

Opponents say the shacks essentially serve as just another room of the bars themselves, exposing other customers to second-hand smoke. Stacy Campbell works as the Healthy Lifestyles Section Supervisor with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. She said if the rooms are in considered in compliance with the clean indoor air act, they are out of compliance gambling laws.

“To have gaming machines it has to be enclosed and so for gaming purposes they are saying these structures are enclosed and for smoking purposes they are saying they’re a patio,” she said.

Lawyer Gregory Smith represents the owners of several of the bars with the smoking shacks. County Health Inspectors have given the OK to several of them. The owners say they meet international standards for ventilation in smoking lounges. Smith argued the rooms are a net positive for second-hand smoke.

“I’m sure wherever you are, you’ve experienced the, I guess I’ll be ironic, the joy of walking into a restaurant or a building and running the gauntlet of smokers out front—the non-smokers have to walk through there,” he said. “Now they don’t, now they’re separated.”

County Attorneys’ offices are responsible for enforcing the Clean Indoor Air Act. Smith’s clients are asking for a declaratory judgment from the Cascade County Attorney that the rooms are within the bounds of the law.

A hearing is scheduled for October.

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