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Dr. Jennifer McElravey: 'Some outlets are following the law, but many are not.'

Washington County has the opportunity to become the first county in Oregon to reduce the chances that its young people will become addicted to tobacco. As chair of the Washington County Public Health Advisory Council, and as a healthcare professional and parent of three teenagers, I suggest they take it.

On Oct. 19, the county's Board of Commissioners will consider an ordinance that would restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products to 21 and older retail outlets. These are the same locations where adults can now buy cannabis and alcohol. By adopting this important policy, Washington County would join the 310 other jurisdictions, including cities and states, across the nation that have restricted the sale of flavored tobacco products.

If the ordinance passes, tobacco flavors like bubble gum, strawberry, tropical fruit fusion, menthol and mint will no longer be available at convenience stores, grocery stores, gas stations and other locations that serve people of all ages. The ordinance would also eliminate price promotions and discounts for all tobacco products.

Why is this important?

Because there is evidence that most teens become addicted to tobacco by first using flavored products like menthol cigarettes and candy- or fruit-flavored e-juice in a vaping pen or device.

According to the 2019 Oregon Healthy Teens Survey, 18% of our high school students and 9% of our middle school students in Washington County reported having used a tobacco or vaping product with mint, menthol, fruit, coffee, candy or other flavors.

These results support previous research that shows how powerful flavors are for getting youth to start using tobacco, setting them up for a potential lifelong battle with addiction. The authors of a 2014 study published in the journal of Nicotine and Tobacco Research concluded that 65% of young adult menthol smokers (18-24) say they would quit smoking and not use any other products if menthol cigarettes were banned.

Convenience stores and other retail outlets are supposed to only sell tobacco products to people who are only 21 and older. Some outlets are following the law, but many are not. During a 2019 Oregon Health Authority inspection, the agency found that 23% of Washington County retailers sold a tobacco product to someone younger than 21.

For these reasons, I strongly urge Washington County commissioners to adopt this new ordinance. It will go a long way in keeping these products out of the hands of our young people, and in preventing them from becoming addicted to the nicotine in tobacco products.

Jennifer McElravey, PharmD, chairs the Washington County Public Health Advisory Council and works as pharmacy 340B program manager for the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, which serves Washington and Yamhill counties. She lives in Cedar Mill. This commentary represents her personal views, not those of her employer.

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