Clatsop County is taking a tobacco retail license ordinance back to the cities, this time giving more attention to a ban on flavored tobacco.
Last month, county commissioners delayed action until January after hearing from local tobacco retailers and the electronic cigarette company, Juul, that the process was not transparent. The ordinance would give the county the authority to license and inspect tobacco retailers, as well as ban flavored tobacco. The county would be the first in the state to ban flavored tobacco products.
The discussion with cities, which had initially supported the ordinance, comes in the midst of a national focus on vaping-related illnesses and deaths.
Gov. Kate Brown on Friday announced a six-month ban on flavored vaping products after two deaths and several illnesses reported in Oregon. Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee has also called for an emergency ban.
John Harper, a regional cigarette and marijuana store financier, asked county commissioners to convene tobacco retailers and cities to discuss the flavor ban, saying he believes cities were not fully aware it is a component of the ordinance.
The Clatsop County Public Health Department took the ordinance before Astoria, Warrenton, Seaside, Gearhart and Cannon Beach, but some city leaders don’t recall mention of the ban.
“That has not been brought before Seaside leadership,” Seaside Mayor Jay Barber said. “We have heard about the licensing of tobacco dispensaries, which I think the City Council would be very supportive of. But no, we haven’t been in that loop.”
He said he would personally be in favor of some type of ban around vaping flavors, but would like more conversation to occur.
Warrenton Mayor Henry Balensifer said a ban on flavored vaping products was discussed, but he wasn’t aware the ban included all flavored tobacco products.
“I didn’t understand it to be like all flavored nicotine products at large because that encompasses quite a lot of stuff, very much well in circulation, and isn’t causing the vaping crisis type symptoms,” he said.
Warrenton City Manager Linda Engbretson was also under the impression that the ban was only on vaping flavors.
She said a concerned business owner came to her saying he also understood the ban was on vaping flavors. He said flavored menthol tobacco products are popular with adults, so a broader ban would have a very big impact on his business.
Michael McNickle, the county’s public health director, said the favor ban was presented to the cities.
“Probably we could have done a better job explaining this specifically and that’s why we’re going to do it again,” he said.
“The one the cities saw was a draft and then the draft that we sent out to our county counsel for final review was the one that the county commissioners saw,” he said. “There were different drafts going around.”
McNickle said the county first wanted to know whether cities would support a tobacco retail license.
“Then we said, ‘What about a flavor ban?’ And most of them said ‘yes.’ But apparently they didn’t understand what that means,” he said.
McNickle said he hopes the ordinance can be a partnership with cities.
He said he understands people’s concerns about having access to flavored tobacco products, but said if adults have access, so do teens.
“Flavored tobacco products and flavored vaping products are designed to get kids to smoke — that’s their only purpose,” McNickle said. “The whole point of this is to get teens from not picking up vaping, which is a gateway to smoking.”