Public supports tobacco licensing, witnesses tell commissioners

October 20, 2015

Dr. Tia Henderson, Upstream Public Health
Dr. Tia Henderson of Upstream Public Health

Nearly a dozen people urged the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday morning to license tobacco retailers saying young people have too much access to the products.

In the first of two public hearings held on Oct. 20, Dr. Tia Henderson described how Oregon has the highest illegal sales of tobacco of minors in the nation, with most smokers starting to use well before 18.

Tobacco remains the number one preventable cause of death in Oregon, she said. Earlier this year, Upstream Public Health collaborated with an advisory team to conduct a health equity impact analysis. The team found that smoking disproportionately affects people of color, LGBTQ communities, people with annual earnings of less than $15,000, Medicaid participants, young people and young mothers.

“This didn’t happen magically. This happened by the tobacco industry repeatedly targeting communities,’’ Henderson said.

Linda Roman, of the Oregon Health Equity Alliance asked the board to:

  • Pass a licensing program

  • Create a “safe space around schools” with no new retailers within 1,000 feet of a school

  • Ensure pricing minimums and per pack quantities

  • Prohibit sales to anyone under 21

Dr. Gregory Blaschke
Dr. Gregory Blaschke

Others repeated that request. Dr. Gregory Blaschke, a retired Navy captain and pediatrician at Oregon Health & Sciences University, said that as a physician, brain science research shows that the age someone starts using impacts addiction across tobacco, alcohol and cannabis.

As a military veteran, he said that tobacco use is at epidemic levels in the military because of young recruits’ access to tobacco. He urged the age be raised to 21 saying half the troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan used tobacco.

“Just because one has the courage to serve one’s country does not mean one has the same ability to fight addiction.”

Commissioner Jules Bailey said he also supported raising the age to 21.

Jonathan Polofsky, executive vice president of the private-convenience store chain, Plaid Pantry, said he opposed the policy. He said it wasn’t because tobacco and e-cigarettes shouldn’t be closely regulated, but because, with 110 stores and more than 750 employees, it should not be a county-level rule.

“This needs to be done at the state level,’’ he said. “It must be a uniform set of regulations, not a patchwork.”

His colleague, Karen Anderson, described Plaid Pantry’s zero tolerance policy of conducting in-store stings, and conducting either employee training or terminations.

Commissioner Judy Shiprack said while she lauded the effort, she did not the think the policy would affect their zero tolerance policy.

“Commercially, you are suffering from an unequal degree of competition from retailers who do not share your high standard. I appreciate your high standard and there should be a high standard imposed on every retailer,’’ Shiprack said.

Ori Alon, 16, said he supported licensing and raising the age to 21 on Tuesday.

David Glenn, vice president of the Multnomah County Vaping Association, said he supported licensing to limit people brewing vape juice in their garage.

“We think licensing is good, we’re against tobacco. We don’t like cigarettes either.’’

Ori Alon, 16, said he supported licensing and raising the age to 21 because many high school students are 18 and can provide tobacco to much younger people who move in their same social circles.

“We can eliminate that,’’ he said.

Chair Deborah Kafoury thanked those who attended.