Multnomah County commissioners will review policy language for new product restrictions in September.
Months after Washington County commissioners passed a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products, Multnomah County leaders are reviving a similar proposal that would institute a similar ban in Oregon’s most populous county. .
At the urging of Nafisa Fai of Aloha, the county’s newest commissioner, the Washington County Board of Commissioners voted late last year to ban flavored products along 3-2 lines.
A group of convenience store owners and other opponents of the ban successfully called for a referendum on the ordinance, submitting enough signatures to force it to a vote in May. In that May election, voters overwhelmingly said “no” to repealing the ordinance.
However, the ban has not yet come into force. Washington County Circuit Court Judge Andrew Erwin issued an injunction last month at the request of a group of smoking lounge owners, who argue the order is unconstitutional and would unfairly deprive them of legal business income .
There are also ongoing state and federal lawsuits arguing that the wording of the ballot violated Oregon law and that the results of the repeal vote should be thrown out.
Despite legal woes in neighboring Washington County, Multnomah County commissioners this week expressed interest in enacting their own ban.
“For decades, Big Tobacco has used sweet, minty and specialty flavors to entice young people to try products that will keep them addicted for life,” Multnomah County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury said during a briefing from the Board of Directors on Tuesday, August 16.
Ending nicotine addiction will continue to be difficult, and many local businesses are making money selling products containing the addictive chemical, Kafoury said.
“But at some point,” Kafoury continued, “we have to say ‘enough’.”
She ordered Department of Health officials to bring political language to the council in September to stop the retail sale of flavored products containing nicotine.
Multnomah County Health Officer Jennifer Vines said the briefing picked up where the county left off before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
In 2019 and early 2020, Multnomah County held a series of public hearings and meetings on the dangers of flavored tobacco and nicotine products amid skyrocketing youth vaping rates. The board considered several policy options, including passing an ordinance — similar to the one Washington County eventually passed and passed in late 2021 — to restrict sales of the products.
Vines distinguished between combustible tobacco and products that use liquids to deliver nicotine through e-cigarettes or vapes.
One of Multnomah County’s primary public health goals is to minimize product initiation among young people, Vines said.
“This is an industry and an addiction that relies on recruiting new users, and flavored tobacco plays a key role in that,” Vines said.
While the carcinogenic and other health effects of tobacco have long been known, nicotine use has been linked to cardiovascular problems and impaired brain development, Vines said.
“Who uses flavored tobacco and nicotine products? Vines asked. “No surprise, they are children.”
According to the most recent data available from the Oregon Health Authority, 57% of eighth graders and 65% of 11th graders reported using flavored tobacco or vaping products in 2017. That compares to 21 % of people aged 25+ who reported using the products in 2016.
Illustrating how the products can appeal to children, Vines brought candy and flavored tobacco and vaping products, prompting people to notice the similarities in the packaging.
It’s easy for kids to buy tobacco and vaping products illegally, Vines said, even after Oregon raised the age to buy the products to 21 in 2018, and Multnomah County started requiring all retailers to be licensed and submit to routine inspections two years earlier.
Young underage inspectors in Multnomah County are able to purchase tobacco products 17% of the time, the data shows.
According to the county, nearly all of the county’s 800 licensed retailers sell at least one type of flavored tobacco or vaping product.
In response to a question from Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, Vines said there is no doubt that vaping is less harmful than smoking. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved vaping as a nicotine cessation aid, however, she noted.
A big question for young vapers is whether they smoke tobacco later in life. Vines said research on the topic was inconclusive.
“My goal is that no one wins when a group of young people get sucked into nicotine addiction, vape it, or continue to smoke combustible tobacco,” Vines said.
Although adult tobacco use has been declining nationally for years, “this public health gain has not been shared equally,” Vines said.
The LGBTQ community, low-income people and people of color use tobacco and nicotine products at higher rates due to successful marketing campaigns targeting these groups, Vines said.
Many of these marketing campaigns focus on flavored products, including menthol cigarettes and more than 15,000 available flavors of vaping products, she said.
The data is particularly striking for African-American smokers, who used menthol cigarettes at an 85% rate, compared to 47% for Hispanics/Latinos and 29% for white smokers, according to a study published in the journal Tobacco. Control in 2016.
The two leading causes of death in Multnomah County – cancer and heart disease – are both tobacco-related illnesses.
Vines said she was there to represent community advocates, the Multnomah County Public Health Advisory Council and the county’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health Program, which aims to reduce health disparities. chronic diseases among black and immigrant communities.
“It’s an issue that people would like to see movement on,” Vines said.
Commissioner Susheela Jayapal asked if new regulations would have an impact if minors could circumvent existing laws to buy tobacco and nicotine products.
The county needs to be clear that its policy will be for retailers, not users, she said.
“It also raises questions about our communications strategy,” Jayapal said. “For example, small businesses, especially BIPOC-owned businesses, are just making sure the impact doesn’t go to already vulnerable communities.”
Vega Pederson asked if data is available on the purchase of tobacco and vaping products online.
Vines said health officials will answer questions when they return next month.
Kafoury asked health officials to gather community feedback on potential new restrictions with an online forum.
Troy Shinn contributed to this report.
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