The Montana Clean Indoor Air Act

Unreasonable and Unnecessary Legislation

March 30, 2009

The Montana Clean Indoor Air Act, a law passed in 2005 by the Montana Legislature, is a great example of a bad law, designed to restrict the rights of individuals and businesses in the name of public good while absolutely failing to provide any good to the public. It is an unfortunate public mind-set we live in where this is either acceptable or perceived as good, let alone both, and where this kind of misbehavior on the part of our elected representatives is not only tolerated, but expected - or even demanded.

TV Commercials Indicate This Law Is Unreasonable

The fact that the state, and some other organizations, have felt the need to launch massive television and radio commercial campaigns to promote this law now that it has passed and with the final deadline coming for all bars and casinos (and similar establishments) to be smoke-free, indicate their lack of faith in the populace and their understanding that this is a bad, unreasonable, unsupportable, and unjust law.

In the commercials, you have a variety of supporters touting how awesome the law is and how it will make the universe perfect, the planets align, and will instantly eliminate all health concerns in the state. However, none of the arguments provided is either valid or rational.

Argument 1: I'm in a Band and I Don't Want to Play in a Smoke-Filled Bar

Members of the local Montana band, The Clintons come on screen, stating how much they hate playing in smoke-filled bars and casinos, and how bad it is for them; the singer, in particular, complaining about how it "roaches his voice" by the end of a night.

OK, those are all valid points. However, there is a VERY simple way to address this: Don't play establishments that allow smoking. There are plenty of venues already that prohibit smoking, and there are venues other than bars.

For a bigger, more established, better known band like The Clintons, you can probably even put a line in your contract with the establishment you are playing in that the establishment needs to prohibit smoking on the nights the band is playing.

For a smaller band, this may be more difficult, but there are still plenty of venues looking for entertainment that are already smoke-free.

"I don't want to play in a smoke-filled bar," is a valid argument for individuals, but it in no way supports or justifies a law like the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act.

Argument 2: I Want A Smoke-Free Place to Work

In this vignette, supposed bar workers complain about working in a smoke-filled room, getting exposed to all the health risks of second-hand smoke, and coming home smelling like a smoky bar.

Again, fine, these are reasonable arguments for making personal choices in your life, but no justification for an unreasonable law like this. I have never seen someone holding a gun to a waitress's head and making her work in a smoke-filled room. Of course, even that wouldn't validate the argument for the law, as the supposed problem is that the employer is killing his or her employees with the smoke.

This is another easy one to work around, and you have several options for working around it.

Option 1: Quit. Just tell the boss you're quitting because your workplace isn't smoke-free. Even in these tough economic times, there are still help wanted ads all over the place. Get another job someplace that doesn't allow smoking.

Option 2: Threaten to quit. Tell the boss that you'll be quitting if the workplace continues to be smoke-filled. Let the boss decide whether he or she wants employees to whether he or she wants to allow smoking. If the boss has to do all the work because there ar no employees because the establishment allows smoking, then you will likely get smoking prohibited.

Option 3: Get another job. Start looking for another job in your off time, and then when you get one, quit and tell the boss why. Again, loss of employees - and the inability to get new ones, can have a huge impact on business decisions.

Option 4: (and this one's maybe a little nicer) Talk to the boss about it. Let the boss know that you would prefer a smoke-free work environment. It may fall on deaf ears, but then you still have options 1-3 to fall back on.

There just isn't any validity to the "I want a smoke-free work environment." This would only be a valid argument if there were a law on the books requiring all establishments that serve alcohol to allow smoking - and even then, possibly wouldn't be valid unless not only were they required to allow smoking, but patrons were REQUIRED to smoke while there.

Argument 3: My Customers Want a Smoke-Free Establishment

In this sketch, a supposed tavern owner comes on screen and tells the camera that his customers expect a smoke-free establishment.

Um, OK. Great. Make YOUR establishment smoke-free. That's a no-brainer. Again, there isn't any law requiring places that serve alcohol to require their patrons to smoke.

This is a great argument for a proprietor to make his or her establishment smoke-free, but is in no way legitimate or valid support for a law like this.

The commercials being pushed out on the public pose some arguments for establishments being smoke-free, but no rational to support an unreasonable and unjust law like this one. The arguments provided are all misdirection or completely unfounded.

The Web Site Promoting This Law Shows the Law Is Unreasonable AND Unnecessary

The State of Montana has several pages posted on the internet like this Montana Clean Indoor Air Act page from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Though these pages provide some valid and interesting information, there provide nothing to support having a law like this.

Health Risks

Yes, there is a lot of information indicating that second-hand smoke is harmful. However, this is not a justification - or even a valid excuse - for a law like this. This is information on which people (including patrons, employees, and owners) should make decisions. Do you want to go to a place that allows smoking or not? If not, don't. Do you want to work in a place that allows smoking or not? If not, don't. Do you want to own or manage a place that allows smoking? If not, don't.

I still haven't found a case of someone being made to work in a smoke-filled bar at gun point, or people being taken hostage, ripped from their clean homes,and forced to spend two hours in a smoke-filed restaurant having dinner.

Reduced Costs

This, again, is irrelevant. Yes, there are a good number of cost-savings your business can gain by prohibiting smoking. Yes, this list is long. Yes, this could save your business a lot of money. However, these are reasons for a business owner to decide to prohibit smoking, not an excuse to pass a bad law.

Safety Concerns

Again, there is abundant evidence tat a smoke-free workplace is safer, and a smoke-free business is safer. Great. Again, this is not grounds for legislation, but good arguments for business owners to make this decision on their own.

Minimal Business Impact

This one is great. I mean, really? You just have to laugh at this. According to the state of Montana, "For most businesses and workplaces in Montana, the new law will not alter existing policies that have been in place for years."

Not only is this not a justification for legislation like this, this is the ultimate argument that this legislation is absolutely unnecessary.

The State provides a lot of arguments vaguely related to this law, but none of them provide any information to support the law, or any justification of the law. At best, these are just more misdirection and irrelevant information,and at worst, the information the State provides to support the law is a solid statement that the law is unnecessary.

Arguments for the Campaign to Get These Laws Passed in the First Place

When these laws started being enacted by Montana municipalities about a decade ago, there were several arguments supporting them. Unfortunately, and uneducated and unthoughtful populace allowed these laws to go through, then allowed the state to pass this big one.

Argument 1: I Want a Smoke-Free Place to Take My Kids

This is, again, a valid argument. However, it is not any form of support for this kind of law. Most businesses were already smoke-free, and any business targeting children definitely was. No support - just misdirection

Argument 2: I Want a Smoke-Free Place to Work

Again, great, but this isn't an argument for a law like this, it's more of an argument for getting a different job. See a bunch of information above on this.

Argument 3: I Want a Smoke-Free Place to Dine

Great. So do I.

However, in Bozeman in particular (where I lived when all this arguing was going on), over two-thirds of the restaurants in the city were non-smoking. There were plenty of places to go that provided good food and a smoke-free environment.

If you personally have any concerns on this front, the way to address it is to call ahead. Just ask if the establishment allows smoking. If they do, tell the employee you spoke to that you will chose someplace else to dine. If they don't, then tell them you're glad they don't and see if you can make a reservation.

If people are calling and asking about smoking, then complaining if smoking is allowed, even if you're talking to the lowliest dishwasher or bus-boy when you call, word will get to the boss, who will have to make a business decision: Is the business I'm losing by allowing smoking combined with the additional expensed (see above) of allowing smoking greater than the business I gain by allowing smoking.

Argument 4: All Health Maladies Will Disappear

This one I just got a kick out of. Well, actually, there were several doctors going on-air and on the record that I thought should have their licenses revoked for deliberately misleading the public and providing inaccurate and unfounded anecdotal information as medical fact.

Based on Helena having enacted a similar city-ordinance a year earlier, these doctors were going on the air claiming huge decreases in smoking-related illnesses in Helena, and stating that this decrease was directly related to the smoking ban.

First, smoking-related health concerns take time to develop, and time to recover. There hadn't been that time.

Then, there was no control group referenced. A similar town or city somewhere else where there had not been a smoking ban in place in the same time period where these decreases were not seen - or even nation-wide occurrences or comparisons to other communities where smoking bans had been in place longer.

In addition, there were losses of businesses that were not mentioned, as well as increases in business for businesses just outside of the Helena city limits where smoking was still allowed.

This argument was based on misinformation and scare tactics, and still wasn't an argument for a smoking ban, though it may have been an argument for people to patronize non-smoking establishments. There apparently was a decrease in smoking-related health issues in Helena in this time period, but claiming it was related to the smoking ban was unfounded.

Am I Against Non-Smoking Establishments?

Simply, no.

What I'm against is unnecessary and unsupported legislation.

There is no support or reason for this kind of law. There are a lot of arguments for businesses to be non-smoking. I prefer dining at a non-smoking establishment, but the owner needs to make these decisions, not the legislature.