Preventing commercial tobacco sales and marketing to youth could get easier across Oregon beginning in January.
In 2021, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 587, which requires retailers to get a license to sell tobacco products and e-cigarettes starting in 2022. The Oregon Department of Revenue and Oregon Health Authority are developing the program as part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce youth tobacco use and strengthen enforcement of state tobacco laws.
"Everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible â€“ and that includes a life free from addiction to commercial tobacco," said Rachael Banks, director of the OHA Public Health Division. "Our kids deserve strong protection from commercial tobacco products, like cigarettes and e-cigarettes. Oregon's new statewide tobacco retail license will reduce youth access to commercial tobacco by helping retailers follow tobacco sales laws and holding retailers accountable if they make illegal sales."
Licensing allows the state to monitor the number, location and density of tobacco retailers in a community. The state can then educate retailers about tobacco sales laws; mount an inspection program to check compliance; and enforce penalties if a retailer repeatedly violates the law, including removing the retailer's ability to sell tobacco. In 2019, 23% of Oregon 11th-graders reported using an e-cigarette product with nicotine, and one in five retailers the state inspected sold e-cigarettes illegally to a person younger than 21. Local tobacco retail license programs that were already in place, such as those in Multnomah, Clatsop and Klamath counties, can continue in close coordination with the state program.
Effectively enforced licensing programs can reduce youth tobacco use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Surgeon General. A study of 33 communities showed dramatic decreases in youth tobacco sales since requiring tobacco retail licenses. Before SB 587, Oregon was one of just seven states in the U.S. that did not require retailers to have a license.
"Protecting youth from starting to use vape and other tobacco products is critical," said Nadia LeMay, health strategist with the Crook County Health Department, which was part of the coalition advocating for the passage of SB 587. "Oregon finally has a way to enforce sales and marketing laws and prevent tobacco from getting into the hands of people under 21."
Passage of the state bill comes after Crook County public health leaders initially proposed creation of a community tobacco retail license in February 2020. That license structure was intended to allow for local control and enforcement of tobacco retailers and would have allowed local jurisdictions control over license fees, retailer education and development of an enforcement structure to suit community needs.
OHA is developing rules to start the new tobacco retail license program and seeks community partners to serve on a rules advisory committee. People from communities that will be affected most by these rules, including those the tobacco industry as well as tobacco retailers have targeted, are encouraged to apply.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.