The legal rights new adults get in Oregon when they turn 18 is officially down by one, as enforcement and fines for Tobacco 21, a law raising the legal purchasing age of tobacco products from 18 to 21, began the first of this year.
The North Central Public Health District (NCPHD) was in support of Tobacco 21, officially known as SB-754, and had discussions about it getting passed before Gov. Kate Brown signed it into law in early August, said Hayli Eiesland, tobacco prevention coordinator for the NCPHD.
Tobacco 21 does not criminalize people ages 18, 19 and 20 for possessing tobacco products (though it is still illegal for minors to possess these products) and there are currently no repercussions for customers under 21-years-old attempting to purchase tobacco products.
“It’s about point of sale,” Eiesland said.
Those caught selling or providing these products in violation of the law face these fines: $50 for employees, $250 for store managers and $500 for store owners. For managers and owners, the fines double by the third offense.
The law doesn’t specify an age requirement for retail clerks selling tobacco products or prohibit those under 21 from entering stores that sell these products, so long as the store keeps the products in a place where they cannot be accessed by customers without the assistance of a store employee.
The law also dictates that all retailers who sell tobacco products must display a sign (which the Oregon Health Authority has available for free download on their website) clearly stating that the sale of these products to anyone under the age of 21 is illegal.
Eiesland has yet to encounter significant pushback from tobacco retailers, noting that some businesses even wanted to enforce the new age restriction before it took effect Jan. 1.
Most of the questions Eiesland has fielded concerned whether people currently 18, 19 and 20 get grandfathered in (the answer is no, they don’t) and details about carding.
“We’re more than willing to help answer questions,” Eiesland said
Oregon is the fifth state to increase the purchasing age for tobacco, following California, Hawaii, Maine and New Jersey.
While it’s still too early to say whether raising the purchasing age has affected tobacco usage in these states, the idea is that the law will help stop tobacco addictions before they start.
The law doesn’t necessarily intend to cut 18, 19 and 20-year-olds off from tobacco completely, Eiseland said, but rather to lower initiation rates by denying access to younger kids that typically run in the same social circles.
"The earlier kids start using tobacco, the more at risk they are for becoming addicted to tobacco and developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, asthma and cancer," state health officer and epidemiologist Dr. Katrina Hedberg was quoted in a press release.
She also said that nine of 10 adult smokers report starting tobacco use before the age of 19 and nearly 100 percent of tobacco users start before age 26.
"Raising the legal sale age for tobacco products to 21 can reduce smoking rates and reduce tobacco-related deaths," she said.
The law also amended the definition of tobacco products to include inhalant delivery systems, defined as “a device that can be used to deliver tobacco products to a person using the device,” such as pipes or vaping devices like e-cigarettes.
While there has been some national dispute on whether vaping devices — which dispense flavored “e-liquids” usually including some amount of nicotine — classify as tobacco products, they are now defined as tobacco products as far as age-restrictions are concerned.
From 2011 to 2015, usage of e-cigarettes and similar vaping devices rose from 1.5 percent to 16 percent among high schoolers and from 0.6 percent to 5.3 percent among middle schoolers; and more than two million middle and high school students nationwide were current users in 2016, the CDC reported.
These products, packaged in bright colors and marketed as tasting and smelling good, appeal highly to youth.
This is exactly what Eiesland hopes Tobacco 21 will combat.
“I’m hoping we can put a halt to [increased vaping among youth] and hopefully this is a good place to start,” Eiesland said.
For more information about Tobacco 21 and other tobacco regulations in the state, visit the Oregon Health Authority’s website at www.healthoregon.com/tobaccoretailsales or contact Hayli Eiesland at 541-506-2609.
Those currently looking to quit smoking can find help by calling 800-QUIT- NOW or, in Spanish, 855-DEJELO-YA.