Multnomah County Health Department, Stuck With Enforcing Oregon’s Vape Ban, Will Not Add Additional Inspections of Tobacco Retailers

The Multnomah County Health Department inspects tobacco retailers once a year to make sure they're complying with state regulations. Those visits won't increase after the flavor ban is implemented.

As Gov. Kate Brown rolls out a six-month ban on flavored vaping products, the Multnomah County Health Department will be tasked with ensuring that tobacco retailers in Portland are complying with the new regulations.

Those regulations will be announced by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission sometime next week, according to the agency's spokesperson, Mark Pettinger.

While Brown issued the ban, enforcing it will be a patchwork affair: Oregon has no statewide regulatory agency overseeing tobacco sales, as The Oregonian first noted Friday.

Individual counties are responsible for doling out tobacco licenses to retailers. Multnomah County currently has 771 licensed tobacco retailers.

Kari McFarlan, who oversees the county's Tobacco Control and Prevention Program for the Multnomah County Health Department, says her office has notified all of its tobacco retailers about the impending ban and have recommended that they remove flavored vaping products off the shelves until the rules are fleshed out next week.

But McFarlan says even after those rules are finalized, the county doesn't have the capacity to visit every single tobacco retailer to ensure shopkeepers pulled products off the shelves.

"We don't have the capacity to do that, so at this time I don't believe we will be increasing our inspections," says McFarlan.

The county's oversight of each tobacco retailer includes one random inspection each year, where a compliance officer shows up unannounced to see if the store is complying with state regulations. The county says it will continue on with the standard trajectory of yearly visits despite the impending flavor ban.

McFarlan says the program will be enhancing electronic communication with its licensed retailers during implementation of the ban, but not in-person communication.

"We will do additional communication and outreach about this specific change in law," McFarlan says. "We're waiting for guidance and issuing of rules to see how complicated it will be for our retailers to comply."