An enthusiastic Montana “tobacco prevention specialist” got an education last Monday on how to prevent tobacco use for real, by vaping. Frank Rozan, a county health worker in Butte, Montana, found himself in Phillip Lish's vape store The Vaping Outlet when a customer produced a cloud of vapor from one of the shop's products.
“You can't do that in here,” Rozan shouted.
“Whoa, whoa, yes you can,” Lish remonstrated. “You’re vaping, it’s just vapor… It’s perfectly legal.”
“No it’s not, it’s a violation of the Montana Indoor Clean Air Act,” Rozan replied.
Hard words reportedly followed, from all three participants, Lish, Rozan, and the customer, who left.
Turned out Rozan was wrong. While smoking cigarettes indoors IS illegal in Montana, vaping is not, as he found out when he checked with state health authorities on Wednesday. The issue has not even been considered by the state legislature. And Mr. Rozan had to go back to Lish and another vape shop proprietor to apologize for his misdirected enthusiasm.
“I’m not a crusader and I told them I was very sorry and I made a mistake,” admitted the erstwhile crusader.
The incident came up at the City Council meeting on Wednesday evening, after which county CEO Matt Vincent reported that several calls had been recieved about the issue that very day.
Vincent promised to contact the businesses involved, in order to relay the information that the matter is not an issue until the Montana legislature considers it.
The next day, County Health Director Karen Sullivan clarified the structure of the education and enforcement arm of her organization. Rozan's job is to educate county residents about smoking risks, and about regulations for tobacco use. Another officer is charged with enforcement of anti-smoking laws, and they sometimes travel to sites together.
Sullivan allows that Rozan was on “shaky ground law-wise”, given that e-cigarettes are “uncharted waters”. Her county health department hopes to receive guidance from state or federal authorities before ruling on the vaping products locally.
The Vaping Outlet has been open for about three months now, and offers vaping devices, batteries, and liquids in more than fifty flavors, both with nicotine and without. The shop is modeled on two shops Lish had already established in neighboring Idaho, one in Pocatello, and one in Idaho Falls. Lish does not sell to minors, and makes that clear with a large sign on the front door. Mr. Lish and his wife Shauna had visited several locations in southwest Montana before choosing Butte (pronounced 'byoot' as in “beauty”) for their third location.
“The people have just been really friendly,” said Mrs. Lish.
The incident has calmed down by now, but Lish's Facebook account of the brouhaha received comments from as far away as Connecticut.
Education marches on.
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