MEDFORD, Ore. — The new year saw a number of new laws go into effect across Oregon, including one that requires retailers to buy a license in order to sell tobacco or e-cigarette and vaping products.
According to public health officials, the purpose of Tobacco Retail License law is to let the state more accurately track where tobacco is being sold to ensure that businesses are following Oregon's tobacco laws, like not selling to anyone under the age of 21.
“Nearly 90% of people who use tobacco start before they turn 18. So, this law protects young people’s health today and reduces the likelihood that they will become addicted to nicotine,” said Krista Klingensmith, Tobacco Prevention and Education Program Coordinator for Jackson County Public Health. “This law is an important step in stopping those sales and providing further protection for youth.”
JCPH says that one in six Oregon tobacco retailers inspected in 2019 sold tobacco illegally to people under 21. For flavored products, which are most popular with kids, it was one in five. Over 50% of stores that were inspected in Jackson County sold tobacco to people under 21 in 2019.
Prior to January 1, Oregon was one of only seven US states that didn't require a tobacco retail license of some sort.
Retailers must now buy an annual license for $953 from the Department of Revenue in order to legally sell tobacco products. The fee is supposed to be used only to cover the costs of running the licensing program and conducting inspections.
Businesses on tribal lands are exempt from the law, as are those licensed under the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission or the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program to sell cannabis vaping products.
For the first six months that the law is in effect, the Oregon Health Authority and local officials are directed to conduct outreach to help retailers get up to speed. Inspections begin immediately to check if retailers have a license, with penalties issued if they do not. Public health inspections and another list of potential penalties begin July 1.
"The law is designed to make enforcement equitable for retailers and communities," JCPH said. "Public health specialists, not law enforcement, will conduct inspections, following guidance from racial equity organizations to ensure they do not over-enforce in communities of color and other communities targeted by the tobacco industry. The law also eliminates penalties for youth purchase, use and possession of tobacco products, which will help reduce interactions between youth of color and police, and put responsibility on those who sell tobacco illegally, not on youth."
Public health officials said that the law does not affect the price of tobacco products, and will not impact adults who purchase tobacco products.