The Oregon Health Authority recently released a report highlighting a slight decrease in illegal cigarette sales, but illegal sales of little cigars doubled. For Malheur County, what was most striking was how few stores were inspected, giving us an incomplete snapshot of the scale of illegal sales. Only 8 out of 26 retailers in Malheur County were inspected in 2019.
This incomplete snapshot is particularly concerning given the rise of the vaping epidemic among our youth and the recent fatality in Oregon connected with vaping.
The Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division conducts retail inspections in collaboration with Oregon State Police. In 2019, the state inspected 1,100 retailers out of about 3,200 retailers who sell tobacco and e-cigarette products statewide. If a retailer violates the law, a citation is issued to the store’s clerk, manager on duty or owner. The annual inspection report shows which stores passed inspection and which sold illegally to people under age 21.
One of the challenges of our inspection process in the state is that only a few counties in Oregon require a license to sell tobacco – and there’s no state license. This means it is extremely difficult to enforce the minimum legal sales age by holding retailers accountable for illegal sales. A tobacco retail license would make it possible to track who is selling tobacco (and thoroughly inspect each one), educate retailers on how to comply with the law and have meaningful penalties for repeat offenders.
The list of Oregon tobacco retailers that violated the tobacco sales is available on the OHA Public Health Division website here.
For more information about how the tobacco industry markets in Oregon, see the recent Tobacco Retail Assessment Report here.