Ordinance banning sale of all flavored tobacco products in Washington County
Starting this year, people in Washington County will no longer be able to buy flavored vapes, tobacco or menthol cigarettes at local shops.
The Washington County Board of Commissioners voted 3 to 2 in favor of an ordinance banning the sale of all flavor tobacco products, the first county in Oregon to do so.
After more than three hours of debate and public testimony, the decision was made to pass the ordinance despite heavy resistance from the business community.
A majority of public comment were from those who opposed the measure including Plaid Pantry CEO, Jonathan Polonsky. He said there should be other ways to stop teens and children from getting their hands on tobacco products.
“To do something in a prohibition type mentality has failed many times in the past,” Polonsky said. “There’s a better way to do this.”
Washington Co. passes ordinance banning sale of all flavored tobacco products
Polonsky said his stores, including 24 in Washington County, use age verification technology. According to Polonsky, it’s been 98% effective in stopping the sale of tobacco products to underage customers.
“If you’ve gone around town, you’ve seen people having to sell their product at 50% off or 80% off just to get rid of it,” Polonsky said. “They’re taking a loss on top of not being able to sell it.” Polonsky said the ban will cost them 20% in sales.
“Even for those like us that maybe aren’t going to have to close their store, it’s still going to impact wages and benefits because we’ll just be that much less profitable,” he said.
The Board of Washington County Commissioners first passed this ordinance in early November, saying it was to lead more users to quit and keep young kids from getting access to these products.
Polonsky agreed kids shouldn’t have access to them, but this ban isn’t the right move.
“I have stores that are a half a mile apart. One in Multnomah County, one in Washington County. If a customer wants this product, a prohibition in a county is not going to work,” Polonsky said. “They’ll drive ten seconds, literally, further and they can get what they want. It’s the same thing with kids. They can get on their bike or walk across the street and get this in Multnomah County.”
Polonsky has started a petition to repeal this ban and get it on the May 17 ballot. So far, he said he has about 7,000 signatures. Washington County said 9,939 are needed by Jan. 31. The deadline for signature verification is Feb. 15.
We all had to find our own ways to cope with the pandemic lockdowns last year. Some people bought Pelotons and baked bread. Others took a slightly less healthy route.
On the other hand, a handful of parents and medical professionals testified in support of the ordinance. They said this ban will improve the health of the public and keep children from getting addicted to nicotine.
One speaker said she has heard stories of school lockers being cleared out and hundreds of e-cigarette devices being found.
“I’m truly afraid if we don’t act now, we will be at a point of no return,” the speaker said. “If we don’t act now, I’m truly terrified for the future of my four-year-old and my unborn baby and all the local kids in our community.”
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network applauded the passing of the law saying in a statement:
“ACS CAN thanks Commissioner Nafisa Fai for urging the Board of Commissioners to remove all exemptions to this policy and Chair Kathryn Harrington and Commissioner Pam Treece for trusting the science on the dangers of menthol and other flavored tobacco products. We look forward to working with other local and state leaders to follow Washington County’s leadership so we can keep flavored tobacco products off store shelves statewide.”
The law also bans the sale of tobacco products under the age of 21 and the use of coupons to buy tobacco products.
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