Editor's note: Endorsements are made by the Editorial Board and reflect the opinion of Pamplin Media Group editors and publishers. Letters to the editor and other submitted opinion pieces will be considered for publication without regard to the official editorial stance or endorsements made by the Editorial Board.
Not quite five months ago, this editorial board congratulated Washington County commissioners on taking bold, dramatic action to curb youth tobacco use.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of the story. The work isn't done yet.
Read our Jan. 13, 2022, editorial in praise of the Washington County flavored tobacco and vaping ban.
That's because the ordinance commissioners approved late last year on a 3-2 vote, banning stores throughout Washington County from carrying or selling flavored tobacco and vaping products, hasn't taken effect. And depending on the outcome of a referendum this May, it might never take effect.
Let's be extremely clear here: There is no reason why big tobacco manufacturers need to make and distribute tobacco and vaping products with flavors like cotton candy, bubble gum and breakfast cereal. That is, no reason save one — to appeal to young consumers, particularly those who are underage, and get them hooked on one of the most addictive substances in the world.
Millions of Americans are addicted to nicotine in some form. Cigarettes are most common. Vaping has been on the increase. Chewing tobacco and dip haven't gone away, either.
Nothing in the ordinance county commissioners approved in 2021 says adults 21 and older have to kick the habit. The ordinance does nothing to restrict the sale of cigarettes and other unflavored tobacco products.
What the ordinance does do is stop the sale of products that are designed to appeal to children.
We're sure big tobacco would argue that adults also enjoy vaping something that tastes like a sugary dessert. We're sure they would also argue they are drawn to the bright, colorful packaging and cartoony labels. And we're also sure that the vast majority of tobacco users pick up the habit when they're still under the legal age of 21.
It's almost like addicting kids to nicotine is what's keeping the big tobacco industry going, huh?
Convenience store owners and their supporters who petitioned this ordinance onto the May ballot say they'll lose out on revenue if it takes effect. We have no reason to doubt them. We also have no reason to believe that outweighs the public health benefits from fewer minors in Washington County getting hooked on the country's leading cause of preventable death.
We also understand the argument that since the ban is limited to Washington County, people can simply go elsewhere — to Portland, to Lake Oswego, to Wilsonville — to buy these products. That's true. And it should be rectified by the Oregon Legislature passing a statewide ban modeled off Washington County's ordinance. We hope to see lawmakers take that up as a priority item in 2023.
Last of all, we should note the ballot question requires close reading. What voters are being asked is whether the tobacco ordinance that commissioners adopted ought to be repealed — meaning if they vote "yes," the ordinance will be wiped from the books and will not take effect. Referenda in Washington County are quite rare, so this construction may be unfamiliar to many voters.
We recommend "no" on Measure 34-314 to keep in place Washington County's ban on tobacco and vaping products designed to addict children to nicotine.
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.