Local merchants who sell tobacco speak out about the new law and how it affects their businesses

 - Wagner's Market Fresh IGA Manager Scott Michel says they don't sell much tobacco at the grocery store. They keep the cigarettes and chew locked up at the check stands.

A new state law recently took effect that raises the legal age to purchase tobacco from retail outlets from 18 to 21.

So far, the change has affected local businesses that sell tobacco products in a variety of ways, depending on their customer base and tobacco sales history.

"We have been impacted a little from not being able to sell to 18 to 20 year olds that used to be our customers," said Mindy Sloper, who owns Powell Butte Country Store. "As the end of the year rolled around, many customers under 21 asked if we were enforcing the law. When told yes we are, they kindly left."

Oregon Senate Bill 754 went into effect Jan. 1, making it illegal for anyone younger than 21 to purchase tobacco products, although there's currently no violation for people younger than 21 to possess tobacco products or inhalant delivery systems.

While many other tobacco merchants said so far the new law has not impacted tobacco sales at their stores, they also noted that it might be too early in the year to notice a difference in the bottom line.

Towne Pump and Pantry Manager Corina Wright said it's still too early to tell, but they do sell a lot of cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

"That's one of our biggest sellers," she said, adding that they had many 18- to 20-year-old customers who tried to purchase after the law took effect.

"They thought there was some grandfather law," she said, adding that when they were turned away, some became upset.

"Cigarette and chew are both real high sales," said Main Station Express Manager Darlene Forseth, adding that they, too, had many younger customers.

She said most of them are young construction workers who come in each morning to purchase tobacco.

"They've all been really nice about it. We've never had a problem," she said. "There's been a few that didn't know, or said they didn't know, but they were nice about it also."

Sloper said their Country Store employees talked to the 18- to 20-year-olds who regularly purchased tobacco products, explaining the law change.

"They were upset but understood that we needed to follow the law," Sloper said. "Smokers and nonsmokers thought it was a ridiculous law. Those under 21 who had already started smoking thought it was unfair."

While the convenience stores may be hit the hardest by the new law, the managers at the three largest grocery stores in Prineville all said they don't sell a lot of tobacco, so this new law doesn't affect them very much.

"I really haven't seen any difference," said Brandy Jones, who is third in charge at Ray's Food Place. However, she noted that before the law took effect, they did have many, many customers 18 to 20 years old.

Wagner's Market Fresh IGA Grocery Manager Katrina Standley says the new law has not impacted her store thus far.

"I'm guessing because we are not contracted, so our cigarettes prices are a little bit more expensive than some of the other stores," Standley said, adding that they did have a few younger customers before the new law. "We haven't really had anybody that was upset."

Ericksons Thriftway Store Manager John Amadeo said his store doesn't sell many cigarettes, but they continue to ask for identification from anyone who looks younger than 25.

"We have an age verification in our system, so anytime you buy cigarettes or alcohol or tobacco or anything like that, it flags, and you have to ask for ID," he explained, noting that, like most retailers, the tobacco cabinet is behind the counter at the front of the store.

Crook County Tobacco Prevention Coordinator Kris Williams said government agencies will conduct stings to make sure retailers are following the new tobacco law.

She thinks it's imperative that tobacco is kept out of the hands of underage youth.

"Historically, the majority of tobacco users start before the age of 18," Williams said. "To raise the age to purchase tobacco to 21, hopefully it will reduce that impact of underage youth use."

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