For Smokers, One Last Gasp

By Beacon Staff

It’s been a long time coming. But a statewide ban on smoking indoors, scheduled to take effect on Oct. 1, 2009, has one last hurdle to clear: Shelby Sen. Jerry Black.

Black, a Republican, has drafted a bill to exempt about 1,400 bars and casinos from the ban at the prodding of several business people.

Lee Newspaper’s Charles Johnson has the story, in which he interviews a Shelby tavern owner about the ramifications of the law.

[Darrell] Keck, who owns a steakhouse, lounge and casino, said he spent $18,000 putting up a wall to separate his dining room, when smoking wasn’t allowed there, from the bar, where it is. Keck said he lost 60 percent of his dining business, while his bar business went up 300 percent.

The Montana Clean Air Act barred smoking in public places and indoor workplaces as of October 2005, but gave bars and casinos four years to abide by the law.

The Montana Tavern Association and Gaming Industry Association are opposing Black’s bill, and Black himself conceded it has little chance of passing. But if the legislation does reach the floor, expect crowded chambers.

On one side, healthcare advocates are arguing their case in a debate they thought they had already won. On the other, tavern owners are arguing for property rights and pointing out that people don’t go to bars to stay fit. Keck:

“If that were the case, I guess they’d be serving booze at the health clubs.”