Tobacco products are easier for minors to illegally obtain in Clackamas County than in other parts of the state, according to a recent study by the Oregon Health Authority.
The most recent round of inspections of tobacco sales to people under 21 in Clackamas County revealed that 35 percent of sales violations were for electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) products, significantly higher than the statewide average at 21.3 percent. The county’s violation rate on cigarette sales, 21.2 percent, was also higher than the statewide result of 13.3 percent.
In January 2018, the OHA started enforcing a tobacco sales age of 21, up from 18. Initial results of an evaluation of Oregon’s Tobacco 21 law show it may reduce the number of youth who take up smoking. But while the law made some changes to who can be fined for an illegal sale, the recent inspection results suggest more needs to be done.
In 2019, OHA in collaboration with Oregon State Police inspected 1,100 retailers out of about 3,200 retailers who sell tobacco and e-cigarette products statewide. The state inspected 94 retailers in Clackamas County, which is less than a third of total retailers. These inspections additionally showed a rise in illegal sales of conventional cigarettes to people under 21 in Clackamas County, while illegal little cigar sales more than doubled statewide.
This is significant because e-cigarettes, nicotine vaping products and little cigars (also called cigarillos) are sold in sweet flavors, which is a tactic used by the tobacco industry to make nicotine delivery products appeal to youth, according to the OHA report.
“Flavors hook kids and they don’t realize that nicotine is a powerful drug that can seriously affect their health throughout their lives,” said Dr. Sarah Present, Clackamas County health officer. “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.”
Illegal tobacco sales by retailers create risks for young people in Clackamas County that require the enforcement of Oregon’s strong Tobacco 21 laws. Currently, there are approximately 287 known tobacco retailers in Clackamas County.
“One of the challenges of our inspection process is that only a few counties in Oregon require a license to sell tobacco — and there’s no state license,” said Dr. Tom Jeanne, deputy state health officer at the Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division. “This means it is extremely difficult to enforce the minimum legal sales age by holding retailers accountable for illegal sales. A tobacco retail license would make it possible to track who is selling tobacco, educate retailers on how to comply with the law and have meaningful penalties for repeat offenders.”
Oregon is one of only nine states that doesn’t require a license to sell tobacco.
In Canby, five retailers were part of the inspection, in which locations were tested on whether they would sell cigarettes, e-cigarettes or other tobacco products to minors. Three of the five passed the inspection (7-Eleven, Arco and Cutsforth’s Market) and two failed (Astro and Safeway).
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