Clatsop County is moving to license and inspect retail tobacco sellers, as well as ban flavored tobacco, which is favored by teenagers.
County commissioners held the first public hearing on the proposed ordinance Wednesday night and could approve it on Sept. 25.
The license would cost retailers $350 a year. The inspections would help ensure retailers are following Tobacco 21 rules. In 2018, Oregon joined the national campaign to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21 years old.
Oregon is one of nine states that does not have tobacco retail licensing.
Astoria, Warrenton and Seaside support the county’s ordinance.
“Access is a major contributor to the teen epidemic of vaping,” Michael McNickle, the county’s public health director, said in an email. “If we can reduce access to vaping products to those under 21 by enforcing Tobacco 21 rules about advertising and access and so forth — then it will be less likely that teens under 21 can.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned people about vaping after several deaths linked to a lung disease associated with e-cigarettes, including one in Oregon.
The Trump administration is preparing a ban on flavored e-cigarettes. The Oregon Health Authority released a statement Thursday in support of a federal ban, calling flavors a “key component of youth use and initiation of tobacco products.”
“E-cigarettes are the most popular tobacco products used among Oregon youth, with 21% of Oregon 11th graders reporting e-cigarette use in 2018,” the statement said.
And they are available in “thousands of flavors with kid-friendly names and candy-like packaging.”
In Clatsop County, public health officials believe a ban on flavored tobacco products, which is included in the new ordinance, may discourage teenagers from using tobacco.
After conducting an e-cigarette assessment in public schools, the county found that students believe vaping is safer and poses no health risks. School officials feel overwhelmed at the scope of the problem.
During a public hearing Wednesday, Julia Hesse, a county health promotions specialist, said tobacco companies use flavors to attract kids. She said a popular flavor is called “Unicorn Vomit,” which is described by one retailer as, “imagine you’re 9 and your mom let you get whatever you wanted at the store and you chose the most sugar-filled, sour powder you could find.”
“Clearly this isn’t for adults who are trying to quit smoking,” Hesse said.
More than 95% of smokers started before they were 21 and those who smoke by 18 are twice as likely to become a lifelong smoker, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
“When we do these policy-level changes it makes a difference for everyone,” said Brooke Stanley, the Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization health improvement coordinator for Clatsop County.
“And at Columbia Pacific CCO that type of equity in preventing access, especially to youth, for these addictive things at the policy level so that it really is helping everyone I think is really important. And Columbia Pacific CCO and CareOregon have backed it and are interested in seeing it go through.”
The county surveyed tobacco retailers this summer about the proposed ordinance.
Out of the retailers that responded, the majority supported licensing and believed it would not affect their businesses. Retailers also said they could consider discontinuing vaping products to deter young people from using.
Commissioner Pamela Wev, the liaison to the Public Health Department, said she is impressed with the research and work on the ordinance.
She said she feels very confident the ordinance would enhance public health.