Judge dismisses lawsuit against Multnomah County’s ban on flavored tobacco products

By April Ehrlich (OPB)
Sept. 6, 2023 2:39 a.m.
A person demonstrates use of a vape in this undated file photo.

A person demonstrates use of a vape in this undated file photo.

Kristian Foden Vencil / OPB

A state circuit court judge has ruled in favor of Multnomah County’s ban on the sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine products.

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The opinion from Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Souede shuts down arguments from tobacco groups, which had alleged the ban was illegal and couldn’t be enforced.

In December 2022, county commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance banning the sale of products like menthol cigarettes and hookah. They said the ban was to prevent tobacco use among children and teens.

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Local tobacco groups sued the following month. They included 21+ Tobacco and Vapor Retail Association of Oregon, No Moke Daddy LLC, and Paul Bates, an Oregon vape show owner.

In his opinion, Souede said the groups’ arguments were flawed. He said state law doesn’t prevent the county, acting as the local public health authority, from passing ordinances regulating the sale of flavored tobacco products.

With this ruling, tobacco retailers like grocery stores, corner markets, and hookah lounges won’t be able to sell flavored tobacco products in Multnomah County starting in January 2024.

County inspectors will be tasked with enforcing the new rules through the county’s tobacco retail license program.

The ordinance doesn’t prevent individual people from using flavored tobacco or nicotine products; rather, it prevents retailers from selling them. If a retailer breaks these rules, the county could revoke its license to sell any tobacco products.

Washington County was the first in Oregon to pass a local retail ban on flavored tobacco products in 2021, but a Washington County Circuit Court judge ruled against it the following year. In his opinion, Circuit Judge Andrew Erwin argued such a ban would have to come from the state.

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