Great Falls: Smoke em if you got em!

The “smoking shelter” calamity in Great Falls (MT) has been interesting to follow.

In case you were wondering about it, a law called “The Montana Clean Indoor Air Act” banned smoking in enclosed public places in 2009, so some bars/casinos built “smoking shelters” that, as the Great Falls Tribune reported in December 2013, “are intended to circumnavigate the law to create spaces where gamblers can smoke while they play.”

A local district judge ruled the shelters were OK, but the Montana Supreme Court overturned that ruling. Apparently the shelters were not open enough. Businesses have spent thousands of dollars on the shelters. Some shelters were pretty nice, which means they are not just a picnic table with an umbrella blowing in the wind and a five-gallon bucket for the butts.

The Great Falls Tribune had two sides submit their arguments about the shelters. You can read the pro-shelter column HERE and the con-shelter column HERE. Both sides make good arguments, but overall it’s kind of a silly mess they are in.

According to local television station KRTV, today (Wednesday, June 3) the Cascade City-County Health Department is holding a public hearing “to consider a proposed regulation governing smoking rooms.” The meeting is scheduled for 11:30 in the Great Falls City Commission Chambers.

I’ve lived in Montana about 25 years and checked out the casinos a few times. I found the casinos in Montana to be pretty boring compared to other casinos I’ve seen in other states and overseas. I’ve always felt if you’re going to allow gambling in a state, you might as well go big or go home. By the way, going big does not mean a mom and pop casino on almost every corner, like you’ll see if you drive down 10th Avenue South in Great Falls.

I don’t like to see so many casinos. Yes I know they employ people and the taxes are marvelous blah, blah, blah. When I was involved in the world of politics, if you were a candidate or elected official you did not want to be seen as being against casinos/bars. These owners field a pretty strong group of supporters and lobbyists who protect their turf.

I guess they need to work a little harder on the Montana Supreme Court candidates. Ka-ching!

I’ve written before that I thought the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act was a little far-reaching. As a non-smoker going into bars and restaurants where smoke filled the room it bothered me. I would not frequent those places.

I’ve also written that the authors of the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act could have saved a lot of time and money if they would have left the decision to the consumers and the owners. A cheap $5 sign placed at every entrance telling customers that “Smoking is Allowed in this Establishment” or “Smoking is NOT Allowed in this Establishment” would have allowed the consumer to make the decision to use the business or not. Owners could determine if they wanted to be a smoking establishment or not. Children under a certain age would not be permitted to enter a business that allowed smoking. Making employees who don’t smoke work in the area would have to be addressed.

We’ve come a long way in this country. You don’t have to be too old to remember the “No Smoking” section on planes, which now seems pretty funny. Now we have e-cigarettes and personal vaporizers. Here in Great Falls we are having a debate about the words “open shelter.”

Great Falls is situated right in the middle of “Big Sky Country.” It has some of the best air that you will breathe in the whole wide world. Sometimes that air is hard to catch because it blows by at speeds up to 50 miles per hour. Unfortunately some citizens are still having a debate about what constitutes an open shelter or if a smoking shelter is open enough.

The whole fiasco reminds me of the argument about what the definition of “is” is.

Come on boys and girls – somewhere there’s a compromise to be found. Work together and find it. You’re embarrassing us…

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