Oregon Health Alliance asks Board to protect children from tobacco and e-cigarette access

December 19, 2014

Nafisa Fai of the Oregon Health Equity Alliance tells commissioners of tobacco and e-cig marketing to children

African American and Latino leaders warned Multnomah County Commissioners on Dec. 18 of a tobacco “epidemic” in communities of color and asked the board to take action to protect their children.

People of color, and those with low incomes, are more likely to use tobacco, less likely to quit and more likely to die prematurely of cancer as a result, members of the Oregon Health Equity Alliance told the board.

“This is one of those rare places where the industry knows how to find us, knows how to target, knows how to advertise to us in ways that are disproportionate and do not build our community,’’ said Alberto Moreno, executive director of the Oregon Latino Health Coalition. “We ask for your support in making sure that this does not continue.”

The briefing was the third presentation this fall highlighting emerging health issues among tobacco and e-cigarettes in Multnomah County. On Nov. 11., 2014 the Deputy Health Officer and analysts described emerging issues around the exploding e-cigarette market. On Nov. 25, state and county health officials told the board the county has one  of the highest rates of illegal sales to minors of cigarettes in the county. They outlined steps taken across the country to regulate products.

Moreno and other members of the Oregon Health Equity  Alliance gave a brief update on a joint study with the Health Department of local retailers regarding tobacco. Nafisa Fai  a program manager with Upstream Public Health, presented data on a survey of 411 randomly selected stores selling tobacco but said that even finding cigarettes and e-cigarette retailers is difficult.

“It’s baffling that we don’t really know who is selling tobacco in Oregon in general,” Fai said.

Midge Purcell, policy director of the Urban League of Portland, offered steps the Health Equity Alliance believes will make a difference.

“We are here to focus s on how we can get tobacco products out of the hands of young people,’’ she said. The Alliance is recommending the Board of County Commissioners:

  • License businesses that sell tobacco and e-cigarettes. “We can ensure businesses do not sell to children by requiring businesses to have a license to sell tobacco,’’ Purcell said. “A relatively small fee can pay for education to retailers and also for enforcement, This is an option that many other states and many other municipalities have adopted.”
  • Limit sales of electronic cigarettes and any liquids that contain nicotine to 18 and over.
  • Update the Indoor Clean Air act to include e-cigarettes in the current law.
  • Not allow new tobacco retailers within a 1,000 feet of public and private schools. “This to us seems to us a no-brainer,’’ she said. “Big tobacco companies which have successfully targeted the youth market, and that’s obvious because 99 percent of companies sell flavored products. Why else would you have Gummi Bear flavored tobacco products?”
  • Tax e-cigarettes and liquids at a level that would reduce consumption by young people. “They’re more responsive to the changes in price of products and this is a way of intervention before young people are addicted.”

“These are 5 general policy proposals, many of which have been introduced in other places and we hope the board will take them into consideration,” Purcell said.

Kayse Jama, a former smoker and executive director, Center for Intercultural Organizing (CIO),  noted Lane County passed regulations earlier this week.

Commissioner Loretta Smith said after seeing data and hearing news of a child died in New York last week of drinking e-liquid, she strongly supports age requirements and updating the Indoor Clean Air Act.

Chair Deborah Kafoury thanked the presenters and said the Board would take the matter under consideration.

“The data you provided us is very helpful in lending a human face that sometimes get bogged down with statistics.’’