Judge rules in favor of Multnomah County’s ban on sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine products

September 5, 2023

On Sept. 1, 2023 the Multnomah County Circuit Court ruled in favor of Multnomah County’s ban on flavored tobacco and nicotine products. On Dec. 15, 2022 the Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted an ordinance that will ban the sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine products.

The suit, filed by 21+ Tobacco and Vapor Retail Association of Oregon, No Moke Daddy, LLC, and Paul Bates, alleged that the ban of the sale of flavored tobacco products and the County’s Tobacco Retail Licensure Program were both unlawful and unenforceable.

Judge Benjamin Souede writes in his opinion that current law does not prevent the County, acting as the local public health authority, from passing ordinances that will regulate the sale of flavored tobacco products.

“To the contrary, and with striking clarity, ORS 431A.218(2) expressly authorizes local health authorities to pass such ordinances,” writes Soude. ORS 431A.218(2) says that each local public health authority may enforce standards for regulating the retail sale of tobacco products and inhalant delivery systems for purposes related to public health and safety.

Souede went on to say that the plaintiffs’ argument was flawed and not persuasive.

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance banning the sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine products in December 2022 after years of wide-ranging work to address a vaping and smoking crisis among young people. The Health Department’s primary concern is the number of preventable deaths and health issues – including cancers and heart risks – associated with their use. In Multnomah County, those are the two leading causes of death.

The Health Department pointed to studies showing that young people tend to use flavored nicotine and tobacco products in the form of e-cigarettes or vaping as a gateway to nicotine addiction.

Multnomah County ordinance also addresses longstanding racial disparities by banning the sale of menthol products. Menthol as an additive flavor makes it easier to start smoking and harder to quit. This has contributed to a greater death and disease burden for Black, Latinx, LGBTQIA2S+, and other communities.

Nationally, tobacco advertising and discounted menthol products are more common in neighborhoods with a higher percentage of Black residents. This is one reason African Americans are more likely to die from tobacco-related disease than white Americans.

The ordinance banning the sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine products by licensed tobacco retailers in Multnomah County will go into effect in January 2024.

A copy of the judicial opinion and order can be found here (4.23 MB)