Clackamas County officials say they are considering tobacco retail licensing in the wake of surveys showing a disproportionate number of violations in the county, especially if youth try to buy nicotine vaping products.
Recent anonymous surveys of middle and high school students have shown their use of nicotine-delivery devices, also called vape or e-cigarette devices, is on the rise. Clackamas County Health Officer Dr. Sarah Present said kids often don't realize that nicotine is a powerful drug that can seriously affect their health throughout their lives.
"We have a public health epidemic that is happening with our young people right before our eyes, but hard to detect due to stealthy smoke-free e-cigarettes that look like thumb drives that kids get a hold of and even take to school," Present said.
Tobacco retailers in Clackamas County will sell e-cigarettes to people under 21 in 35% of cases, at a much higher rate than the statewide average of 21.3%, according to recent stings by the Oregon Health Authority.
OHA, in collaboration with Oregon State Police, sent minors to attempt to purchase tobacco products from a random selection of 1,100 retailers statewide, or slightly less than a third of retailers who sell tobacco and e-cigarette products in each county.
The state inspected 94 retailers in Clackamas County, and 23.4% failed for tobacco products of all types, a higher rate than the statewide average of 16%, according to an OHA report coming out July 19. Retailers received $250 fines for first or second offenses, $500 if they had been caught three or more times selling to minors.
Oregon is one of only nine states that doesn't require a license to sell tobacco. Only a few counties in Oregon require a license.
Clackamas County's Public Health Department officials have conducted surveys within the community on possible enforcement solutions that determined many retailers support licensing. State and county health officials said that licensing could help them track who is selling tobacco and educate retailers on how to comply with the law.
"We are actively working with our leaders, educators, families and community partners to reduce youth access to these addictive and harmful products," said Richard Swift, director of Clackamas County's health department. "Giving our kids a head start by protecting them from tobacco requires a solution that involves all of our communities."
In January 2018, the OHA started enforcing a tobacco sales age of 21, up from 18. County officials say illegal tobacco sales by retailers create risks for young people in Clackamas County and require the strong enforcement of Oregon's new tobacco laws.
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