Democrats in the Oregon House of Representatives launched a campaign today to pass a statewide ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products, including vapes, chewing tobacco and menthol cigarettes.
Sponsors of House Bill 3090, introduced late last month, say tobacco companies seek to create new customers by hooking kids on vape flavors like Cotton Candy, Orange Soda and Watermelon Ice.
“Ending the sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine will protect kids from the evil genius of hiding the tarry, noxious taste of ignited tobacco,” Rep. Lisa Reynolds (D-Bethany), the bill’s chief sponsor, said on a Zoom call this morning. “Hiding the flavor makes it palatable for kids. It feels less harmful, and then it hooks them on nicotine and it mints a lifelong customer of nicotine and tobacco products.”
The bill, which is supported by Flavors Hook Oregon Kids and the American Heart Association, takes what has been a county-level fight to the state. Washington County commissioners passed a ban on flavored tobacco sales in 2021, and voters ratified it in 2022, but a circuit court judge blocked the ban from taking effect, saying the county had overstepped its powers. The county is appealing.
Multnomah County commissioners passed a similar ordinance in December. Last month, opponents led by lobbying group 21+ Tobacco and Vapor Retail Association of Oregon and a smoke shop called Division Vapor filed suit to block that ban.
State law “specifically authorizes the licensed sale of tobacco products and inhalant delivery systems statewide,” the plaintiffs argued. Multnomah County lacks the authority to ban the sale of flavored products used for vaping and in hookahs, they said.
If passed, HB 3090 would negate that legal argument.
“When this passes statewide, those local jurisdiction lawsuits will be moot,” said Christina Bodamer, a government relations executive at American Heart Association. “We will have done exactly what the Washington County judge said needed to be done statewide.”
Richard Burke, executive director of 21+, railed against the bill, saying it would push flavored tobacco products into illegal, underground markets, where they could incite turf battles among rival gangs selling sketchy products.
“We’re going to cede the market to criminals and social predators,” Burke said in an interview. “The products on the street are going to be far more dangerous. If I was a black-marketeer, I would love this bill.”
The bill also deprives adults of flavored vape products that they use to stop smoking cigarettes, Burke said.
“They say that a lot of kids like these flavors, but adults do, too,” Burke said. “For a snack, I eat Cap’n Crunch. Crunch Berries are my favorite. Am I not allowed to enjoy those flavors because I’m adult?”
21+ is working on amendments to the bill, including one that would require everyone seeking to buy flavored tobacco to present an I.D. that can be scanned for authenticity. Another would allow stores like Plaid Pantry to keep selling menthol cigarettes.