February 10, 2021 – Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service (MT)
|A bill in the Montana Legislature would overturn 11 local ordinances banning flavored vape products. (DedMityay/Adobe Stock)|
HELENA, Mont. — Montana advocates fighting cancer are urging state lawmakers not to roll back anti-smoking policies this session.
February is Cancer Prevention Month and volunteers are speaking with Montana legislators for Cancer Action Week this week.
Kristin Page-Nei, Montana government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said one bill, House Bill 285, would allow for the creation of bars where cigar smoking is allowed.
“Everyone deserves the right to breathe clean indoor air, smoke-free air,” Page-Nei asserted. “And no one should have to risk their health to earn a living.”
The bill received a public hearing on Tuesday.
One proponent from the organization Americans for Prosperity-Montana said the bill would benefit entrepreneurs, and Montanans should be able to make their own choices about smoking.
In Montana, more than a quarter of all cancer deaths are caused by smoking, according to the American Cancer Society.
Page-Nei noted her organization also is opposing House Bill 137, which would overturn 11 local ordinances banning flavored vaping products. That bill already has passed the House.
The local bans are aimed at tackling the growing use of vape pens among youths, who can be attracted to flavored products.
“It would block communities from passing their own laws to regulate e-cigarettes and other tobaccos,” Page-Nei explained. “It would prevent local communities from protecting people from secondhand smoke.”
Supporters of the bill say the bans hurt small businesses such as tobacco retailers.
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network also wants Montana lawmakers to maintain nearly $5 million in funding for the state’s tobacco prevention and cessation program annually.
Page-Nei added lung health especially is critical right now as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on.
“So it’s so important that, yes, we be careful and really work to protect people in this pandemic time,” Page-Nei stated. “But also be aware that cancer hasn’t gone away and that we really need to address and prioritize how we prevent and catch it early.”