Clerks adjust to new Tobacco 21 law
As far as Kris Williams, Crook County's tobacco prevention coordinator, is concerned, anything less than 100 percent compliance on Oregon's new Tobacco 21 law is unacceptable.
"In my opinion, (retailers) shouldn't be selling to anybody (under the age of 21)," she said.
However, she will readily acknowledge that local tobacco sellers have done a good job of limiting such incidents to a small amount since the law took effect Jan. 1. Of the 10 compliance inspections conducted on Crook County retailers, only one sold tobacco to a minor. This 10 percent rate compares favorably with a state rate of 18 percent.
"So we had a fairly good rate, which is really nice," Williams said. "Our tobacco retailers are trying to do what's right for youth."
Williams attributes the lower violation rate to the training the county makes available to local tobacco retailers. She points out that the county health department partners with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to offer free, voluntary retailers trainings twice a year.
"That has gone a long way with educating clerks and the (business) owners on ways to avoid sales to minors," she said. "We had great participation in the last two that we conducted. We had quite a few people."
In addition, the Oregon Health Authority sent out information to tobacco retailers as the Tobacco 21 law took effect, and Williams went out to local businesses, providing stickers to place on doors reminding patrons and retailers that selling tobacco products to people under age 21 is illegal.
"I think the combination of those two things … as well as offering the tobacco retailer trainings have been a real plus," she said.
The new law also includes graduated financial penalties similar to those imposed on alcohol sales to minors. The more times a business violates the Tobacco 21 law, the greater the punishment. However, Williams believes that education, outreach and positive reinforcement are better ways to increase compliance.
"The retailers want to do what's right. The owners definitely want to do what's right," she remarked.
County health leaders, therefore, hope to lean on existing programs and implement other ones that reinforce good behavior. Williams said they will continue to offer retailer trainings twice a year, and she hopes to resurrect the Reward Reminder program that the county offered years earlier.
"We will be recruiting youth ages 17 to 20 to go in and attempt to purchase tobacco products, and if they are successful … the clerk is given a card that reminds them it is illegal to sell tobacco products to minors," she said. "If they correctly read the youth's identification and refuse the sale, then they get a reward."
Williams said the reminder cards include information on Tobacco 21-related education opportunities, and the rewards are typically small gift certificates.
"For us, the Reward Reminder program is a great way to train and remind clerks of the penalties and that it's illegal to sell tobacco to anyone under the age of 21," she said. "We want to keep tobacco out of the hands of our youth."