BOZEMAN, Mont. — A recent decision to ban indoor vaping in public places in Gallatin County may be challenged in court.
Ron Marshall, the owner of Freedom Vapes in Bozeman, says he's found emails exchanged among Gallatin County health officials he claims show health officials worked to change images and information to put vaping and vapers in the worst light possible.
"They're trying to portray an image of vaping that is a lie," said Marshall. "People are using it to quit tobacco."
Marshall says the county's recent decision to ban public indoor vaping is hurting his business.
He's now laying the groundwork for a potential lawsuit, and he shared a portion of the 4,000-page document he obtained through a public records request.
In one exchange a graphic designer and the county health department’s health promotion specialist discuss imagery.
"If you can alter the labels of the vape juices to portray toxicity, that would be great. As they are right now they may promote vaping. If you find any images of people who are coughing really hard, that may work too as well as the inhaler photo," the staff member instructed the designer.
The designer replied with a link saying she found two images of individuals having asthma attacks. "There are lots of other alternatives but these two seemed a little bit darker than the other happy inhaler photos."
Another exchange sent by the same staff member read: "It would probably be smart to have imagery of teens that identify with Hip Hop and alternative culture/peer groups."
Gallatin County Health Officer Matt Kelley says the emails are part of an effort to create social media posts oriented toward young people with a grant they received from the Centers for Disease Control.
"For years we have dealt with big tobacco companies and the vaping industry working together to glamorize and popularize not only smoking but use of e- cigarettes and other vaping devices," said Kelley.
For Marshall, the correspondence is something bigger. He says he'll first appeal the board's decision, and if that doesn't work, he'll sue in district court.
"They colluded, and there's a possible civil rights violation in this," said Marshall.
Kelley says the Health Department will discuss litigation when and if that happens.