Tobacco retail license is worth consideration
It is not uncommon for business and government entities in this community to view new fees, regulations or licensure requirements with skepticism or even contempt.
Crook County and city of Prineville leaders continually express, and try to improve upon, a business-friendly culture that is low on bureaucracy and expenses that could prevent future business growth.
This played out a couple of years ago when the idea of a business license was proposed to the city council. The primary intent behind it was to provide a more accurate registry of businesses and owners that emergency responders could utilize if a fire or burglary occurred.
It wasn't a popular idea. People were reluctant to add a license requirement, even one with a nominal fee. Viewed as another layer of government, the business license idea was dropped and has yet to resurface.
It's in this community and climate that the Crook County Health Department and Crook County Empowered, an organization dedicated to healthy youth, are introducing a new tobacco retail license proposal. The license would include a $300 annual fee, the proceeds of which would fund education for retailers and license program management, and it features some prohibitions on tobacco sales that are intended to limit youth access to inexpensive and/or flavored tobacco and vaping products.
The license proposal has been presented to the Crook County Court and the Prineville City Council for their consideration. Neither governing body has said no to the idea, and they agree with the intent behind the license proposal, but familiar concerns have been raised.
City Councilor Teresa Rodriguez lauded the desire to reduce youth vaping and smoking but questioned whether businesses should have to obtain a license to sell tobacco products when enforcement of existing tobacco law has been so poor. She wasn't the only one with that view.
The reluctance to further regulate businesses and add another layer of government is understandable, but this is one instance where the health of local youth should trump those concerns. Youth tobacco use, vaping in particular, is growing at an alarming rate. Last year, more than 20% of 11th graders and 12% of eighth graders reported vaping, and according to school officials, those numbers have likely risen a lot.
Also consider that alcohol – another substance youth are prohibited from purchasing – cannot be sold without a license. There are certain rules that come with selling alcohol. Why should tobacco products be any different?
Youth access needs to be limited, and a license program where retailers get clear information on the rules and face punitive actions if they break them would be a good start.
So far, this ship has been steered primarily by health department leaders and other stakeholders, but now that the proposal has been introduced to government agencies and the public, it is time for all affected parties – city and county leaders, tobacco retailers and health officials – to find a way to move the tobacco retail license forward. This is one time where adding more government and more requirements to businesses will actually be a benefit.
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