Media Release: Illegal sales of tobacco products increase to youth under 21 in Clackamas County

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An Oregon Health Authority (OHA) report on the most recent round of inspections of tobacco sales to people under 21 in Clackamas County revealed that 35% of sales violations were for electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) products, larger than the statewide average at 21.3%.

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 minor 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 as described in a recent OHA report on the tobacco industry.

Given that more than one in four Oregon retailers sold little cigars illegally to people under 21 in 2019, these products as well as e-cigarettes are relatively easy for young people to get. Middle and high school students’ use of fruit and candy flavored nicotine delivery devices, also called vape devices, are on the rise.

“Flavors hook kids and they don’t realize that nicotine is a powerful drug that can seriously affect their health throughout their lives,” said Sarah Present, M.D., 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 ahold 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 Tom Jeanne, M.D., 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.

Clackamas County’s Public Health Department officials have conducted surveys within the community to determine possible enforcement solutions and are considering tobacco retail licensing due to the importance of knowing who is selling tobacco and nicotine vaping products and where are they located.

“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 Health, Housing and Human Services. “Giving our kids a head start by protecting them from tobacco requires a solution that involves all of our communities.”

The list of Oregon tobacco retailers that violated the tobacco sales is available on the OHA Public Health Division website here: https://www.oregon.gov/oha/PH/DISEASESCONDITIONS/CHRONICDISEASE/HPCDPCONNECTION/TOBACCO/Documents/retail_compliance/Enforcement_results_1819.pdf.

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For more information about how the tobacco industry markets in Oregon, see the recent Tobacco Retail Assessment Report here: https://smokefreeoregon.com/retailassessment/

Contact: Jamie Zentner
Phone: 503-742-5939
Email: JZentner@clackamas.us