HELENA – City officials, businesses, health professionals and residents came together at the City County Building on Wednesday to support a new tobacco ordinance in Helena.
“I’m proud that Helena is the first city in the state with an ordinance like this,” said City Commissioner Andres Haladay. “This is a critical and necessary first step in combating youth access to tobacco products, especially flavored products and under-regulated vapor and e-products. We know that these are designed and marketed to addict a new generation.”
Passed by the Helena City Commission last November, the rule prevents the “self-serve” display of tobacco products with the hope of reducing youth access.
The ordinance covers traditional cigarettes and cigars, smokeless tobacco, e-cigarettes and vaping devices.
In response to the ordinance, Town Pump has moved all previously self-serve tobacco items behind the counter.
“There’s no more self-serve in the Helena area,” said Crystal Collins with Town Pump. “We’ve even extended that out into the East Helena area as well and we’re working on that statewide. So it’s more than just locally, it’s about the community all across the state.”
The city ordinance doesn’t impact businesses that are for adults only.
Supporters of the ordinance say it is a good first step in combating youth tobacco usage.
“9 out of 10 tobacco users usually start before the age of 18 and a lot of them start because of flavors, the colors, where it is in front of the counter,” said Sarah Sandau, Prevention Program Supervisor for Lewis and Clark Public Health. “So having this ordinance will make it a little bit harder for kids under the age of 18 to see it, get that brand recognition and then start using.”
The ordinance will be enforced through complaints the City receives from residents. Violators could face up to a $1,000 fine a day for not being compliant.
“I think the ordinance is definitely a step in the right direction by making it not as easy to just grab it out of the gas station,” said Helena High senior Janell Swanson, “but I think there needs to be a little bit more education on healthy ways to cope with stress.”
Swanson explained that she sees a lot of teens using vaping as a coping mechanism rather than healthier alternatives.
“I’d definitely like to see a lot less of it because I think kids kind of think that’s how you’re ‘cool’ in high school,” added Swanson.
The full text of the ordinance is available on the City of Helena website.