PORTLAND, Ore., Oct. 20, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Earlier today, Multnomah County Commissioners heard from a long list of citizens and organizations supporting improved tobacco control policies that could help the county go from lagging behind the rest of the country to leading it.
"We should be using every tool in our toolbox to protect our kids from the dangers of tobacco addiction," said Sarah Higginbotham, government relations director for the American Heart Association. "Commissioners have the opportunity to pass policies that we know work and our kids' healthy futures depend on it."
During the public hearing today, commissioners considered policies aimed at better protecting youth from tobacco. Currently, Multnomah County is ranked the worst in the country for illegal tobacco sales to minors, due in large part to a lack of a licensure program for tobacco retailers.
Oregon is one of only a few states that doesn't require a license to sell tobacco, which would identify merchants, impose standards, and enforce laws that are currently violated without consequence. The effect of retail licensure programs has been to effectively reduce sales to youth in many communities across the nation.
Commissioner Jules Bailey expressed his support for tobacco retail licensure policy and called for further action.
"Our work here isn't done," said Commissioner Bailey. "I strongly support moving forward with additional measures, including raising the age to 21."
Commissioners also heard support for raising legal sale age for tobacco to 21. A report released earlier this year by the Institute of Medicine indicates that raising the age of sale of tobacco products to 21 nationally would reduce the smoking rate by 12%.
"Recent research reinforces what we've known all along—age matters when it comes to tobacco prevention," said Dr. Michael Shapiro, cardiologist and board member with the American Heart Association of Oregon & SW Washington. "Ninety-five percent of smokers start before age 21. The longer we can delay that first puff, the more likely our kids will grow up free from tobacco addiction."
The county would be following in the footsteps of more than 90 municipalities across the nation, including New York City, as well as the state of Hawaii, which raised their tobacco sales age this year.
It's proven a popular move: 75% of the country agrees that the smoking age should be the same as the drinking age, according to a 4,200 person public opinion survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
"Increasing the legal age for tobacco to 21 will go a long way in decreasing the exposure of younger kids," said Dr. Ben Hoffman, board member of the Oregon Pediatric Society. "This is a no brainer—in what universe is it not a great idea to keep kids away from hazardous, dangerous substances?"
Another public hearing will be held this evening at David Douglas High School to allow for additional input. Ori Alon, a 16-year-old student from Catlin Gabel High School, submitted his thoughts as testimony.
"Tobacco is so easy to get from friends who are seniors," Alon said. "If you want to make it actually difficult, raise the tobacco age to 21."
The tobacco retail licensure package, including a minimum sales age of 21, is supported locally by: AFSCME local 88, American Cancer Society – Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association in Oregon, Kaiser Permanente, the Oregon College of Emergency Physicians, the Oregon Health Equity Alliance, the Oregon Latino Health Coalition, the Oregon Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, the Oregon Medical Association, the Oregon Pediatric Society, the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, Tobacco Free Coalition of Oregon, Upstream Public Health, and the Urban League of Portland.
SOURCE Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation