Opponents of an ordinance that Multnomah County passed in December banning the sale of flavored tobacco products filed a lawsuit in county circuit court Jan. 26, seeking to block the ban.
The plaintiffs, 21+ Tobacco and Vapor Retail Association of Oregon and a smoke shop called Division Vapor, argue that state law “specifically authorizes the licensed sale of tobacco products and inhalant delivery systems statewide” and that Multnomah County lacks the authority to ban the sale of flavored products used for vaping and in hookahs.
The ban is scheduled to go into effect nearly a year from now, in January 2024.
The county took action in December because its five commissioners believed flavored tobacco and vaping products are improperly marketed to children and cause a variety of damaging health effects.
The county’s ordinance spells out those risks, saying: “Flavored tobacco products are popular among youth and young adults and are a key cause of the chronic use of tobacco products for all ages. Eight out of 10 youth who have ever used a tobacco product initiated with a flavored product. In particular, use of flavored e-cigarettes and vaping products have rapidly increased during recent years, despite a 25-year trend of reduced combustible cigarette sales.”
The plaintiffs dispute those health risks and note that it’s already illegal in Oregon to sell tobacco products to anyone under 21.
“Plaintiff Division Vapor requires that anyone entering its store be at least 21 years old and has signs posted at the entrance stating this requirement,” the lawsuit says. “Division Vapor vigorously enforces its restrictions prohibiting entry of underaged individuals.”
The lawsuit follows an earlier effort by tobacco sellers in Washington County to overturn a ban passed by the board of commissioners there. In that case, a Washington County circuit judge ruled the county didn’t have the authority to issue such a ban. Multnomah County officials say that ruling has no bearing on their ban.
A statewide coalition of 35 groups that support Multnomah County’s ban called Flavors Hook Oregon Kids issued a statement blasting the lawsuit.
“The tobacco and vape industry are putting profits ahead of our kids’ health,” the group said. “Flavored tobacco is clearly marketed to our kids, with flavors like Cotton Candy and Orange Soda. Their business model targets our youth using flavors to get them hooked on nicotine to create lifelong customers. We will vigorously defend this ordinance that prioritizes our kids’ health.”