Multnomah County leaders are considering banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products despite a recent court ruling that overturned a similar ban in neighboring Washington County.
The proposed ordinance includes a ban on selling mentholated cigarettes, e-cigarettes, hookah products, and other flavored nicotine products. The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners is hosting a public hearing Monday at 5:30 p.m, then they’re scheduled to take an initial vote on Thursday.
Washington County leaders adopted a similar ban last year, and it was ratified by voters in May 2022. In September, Washington County Circuit Judge Andrew Erwin overturned the ordinance, ruling that such a ban would have to come from the state. Washington County has appealed.
Although the case is still moving through the courts, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury at an October meeting said it “doesn’t apply to Multnomah County,” adding that more than 300 jurisdictions across the country have similar bans.
“This can be done, and action could meaningfully curb the rate at which youth start smoking and vaping,” Kafoury said.
A federal study published earlier that month found that flavored e-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product among middle and high school students, and those rates had increased significantly since 2014. Of the 28,291 students who participated in the 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 14% of high schoolers and 3.3% of middle-schoolers reported using e-cigarettes.
About 8,000 Oregonians die each year from cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases tied to tobacco use, according Multnomah County’s draft ordinance. It says about 28% of cancer deaths in Oregon are attributed to smoking.
Multnomah County Health Department leaders told county commissioners at the October meeting that they believed a ban on all sales of flavored tobacco products would help prevent young people from becoming addicted to nicotine, citing various studies showing that such policies can be effective.
Public Health Director Jessica Guernsey also highlighted examples of tobacco companies marketing their mentholated and other flavored products directly to people who identify as Black, Latinx, and Native American and cited that as one of the key reasons for supporting a county-wide ban
“The restricted sale of flavored tobacco, including menthol, directly ties to what it means to address racism as a public health crisis,” Guernsey said.
Kari McFarlan, who supervises the county’s Tobacco Prevention and Control program, added that the drafted ordinance wouldn’t punish individuals who use flavored tobacco products. If passed, public health officers would enforce the rules by monitoring sales at retail stores, and shopkeepers would be held accountable if they sold banned products.
“If a sales ban of flavored tobacco and nicotine products is adopted, there’s no power here around law enforcement,” she said. “There’s no invitation for racist targeting of individuals who use these products, since the police have no power [to enforce] our health code, which regulates tobacco sales.”