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Missoula Bans Sale of Flavored Vape Products; Lawsuit Threatened

Edward O'Brien/Montana Public Radio
Flavored vape products on display at an Oct. 30, 2019 state district court hearing in Hamilton over Montana's temporary vape ban.

Missoula has become Montana’s first city to pass an ordinance prohibiting the sale of flavored e-cigarette and vape products.

Both supporters and critics of the ordinance expect a legal challenge to the rule.

On a vote of 8 to 4 the Missoula City Council Monday night passed the ordinance banning the sale of all flavored vaping products within city limits, extending five miles out into the county. It also requires retailers to keep all tobacco products behind the counter and away from underage minors.

The move comes three months after the state health department, facing pushback from legislators, withdrew a proposal to enact a permanent statewide ban on the sale and marketing of flavored e-cigarettes Those supporting Missoula’s ban say candy and fruit-flavored e-cig products are designed to attract and hook young people on nicotine.

According to the 2019 Missoula County Youth Risk Behavior Survey, more than 38-percent of local high school students said they had used an electronic vaping product in the past 30 days.

City Council representative Mirtha Becerra co-sponsored the measure.

“I believe that it will help protect, to the best of its ability, the health and safety of our youth by making it more difficult to access products that we know are causing a health epidemic.”

However some say the new ordinance doesn’t go far enough. 

Robert Stenger is a family medicine doctor who also has a seat on the Missoula City-County Board of Health. Stenger praises the local flavored vape ban, but adds it’s incomplete:

“Unfortunately the unintended consequence of leaving non-vaping flavor products available on the market is that we’re leaving those products that are most highly used by some of the most vulnerable kids in the community: children of color, LGBTQ youth and others use flavored products that aren’t vaping products in higher proportions than other kids."

Flavored vape ban proponents suggested its scope could eventually broaden once more data is collected.

E-cig retailers say the law already prohibits youth from purchasing their products. Keith Bowman owns Missoula’s Ecig Vapor Juice store. Bowman says he’s in the business to help people quit smoking:

"By passing this you are showing – not telling – showing people you care more about the city's cigarette money than you do about their health. Do the right thing, committee. Kill this.”

The Montana Smoke Free Association, a trade group of about 15 vape shops issued a statement to MTPR Tuesday saying in part,

“Missoula City says, loud and clear, by removing big tobacco products from the ban, that it's OK if children get their hands on deadly tobacco products, as long as vaping products are banned. See you in court."

Missoula’s ban on flavored vape products takes effect on January 25th.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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