This week, the Multnomah County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance to ban the sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine products.
The ordinance seeks to ban the sale and distribution of tobacco products that have “a distinguishable or distinctive natural or artificial taste, flavor, smell or aroma, other than tobacco,” which includes mint, menthol, wintergreen, fruit, candy, chocolate honey, and liquor, among others identified in the ordinance.
The commission is undertaking the ordinance with a main goal of reducing youth access to flavored tobacco products. While it is already illegal to sell tobacco products to persons under 21-year-old, the county has cited a recent study that shows that 1-in-4 Oregon 12th graders reported that they had used vaping products within the past 30 days.
During the first reading and discussion, an amendment to exempt hookah lounges was proposed by Commissioner Lori Stegmann, who sought to exempt three local hookah lounges and protect the cultural traditions associated with hookah. Her fellow commissioners did not see that goal as outweighing the larger public health goal, defeating the amendment by a vote of 4-1.
A second and final reading is scheduled for the commissioners’ December 15 meeting, with public comment on the matter being accepted until that vote. Should the ban pass its second reading, it will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, though it might meet a challenge in court.
A similar ban that was passed in Washington County, Ore. is currently undergoing a legal challenge, with a judge ruling that it violated state law, saying that counties in Oregon do not have the authority to enact such measures and that they must come from the state legislature. Multnomah County officials believe their ban does not violate state law, and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids has obtained a legal opinion that indicates a belief that Washington County’s ban will eventually be overturned.
Multnomah County covers a major part of the Portland metropolitan area, including Portland. While it is the state’s smallest county by area, it is the most populous with approximately 803,000 residents. It also is home to 771 licensed tobacco retailers.