BILLINGS – The Yellowstone County Tavern Association has filed a lawsuit alleging the new rule that prohibits people from smoking within 20 feet of public entryways was passed in an “anti-democratic and soft totalitarian fashion” and harms local businesses.

The suit was filed on behalf of the tavern association in Yellowstone County District Court on Feb. 16.

Yellowstone City-County Board of Health, the city of Billings and Yellowstone County are all named as defendants in the complaint.

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Rule 7, which prohibits people from smoking within 20 feet of a public entryway or using e-cigarettes indoors, took effect last week.

Violators face fines of up to $100.

RiverStone Health CEO and President John Felton said other jurisdictions have banned vaping devices indoors, but Yellowstone County is the first to require people smoke a certain distance away from entryways.

The rule, an extension of the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act, is designed to protect other bar patrons and citizens from secondhand smoke.

The complaint alleges that the public hearing held before Rule 7 was enacted was “obviously designed to suppress public participation.”

The meeting was held at 7 a.m. on a weekday in December, which the complaint notes was “before businesses hours.”

The plaintiff claims only one person spoke at the meeting in favor of the rule.

“That person did so upon the invitation and urging of the Board in order to create a pretense of support for its anti-democratic agenda,” the complaint alleges.

The complaint states that everyone else who spoke at the meeting was opposed to the rule.

Last Best News reported earlier that only one person spoke against the rule and it was a lawyer representing the Yellowstone County Tavern Association.

The plaintiff also alleges that the rule itself is “arbitrary” because there is “no science, reason, or common sense” to support a distance of 20 feet, which is specified in the rule.

“It restricts the liberty of private citizens’ use of public sidewalks,” according to the complaint. “It purports to render business operators responsible to police the actions of private citizens on a public sidewalk outside their business.”

The plaintiff alleges that the risk of harm created by the rule is greater than the “theoretical” risk of secondhand smoke.

The complaint states that the rule will deter patrons from visiting their businesses, which will result in financial damages.

Through the complaint, the plaintiffs are asking a judge to void the rule.

The defendants have not yet responded to the complaint.

Reporting by Aja Goare for MTN News