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More than one-quarter of Oregon tobacco retailers failed a new state inspection

Unlit cigarettes in a cigarette pack.
Gerd Altmann
The Oregon Health Authority said 26 percent of the tobacco retailers it inspected in 2022 sold products to minors without verifying their age.

More than one-quarter of tobacco retailers in Oregon who were the subject of a minor decoy operation last year failed the test.

A new law requires stores that sell tobacco products to get a license. Those license fees fund an inspection program to make sure retailers aren’t selling those products to people under the age of 21.

"They are also checking to make sure that tobacco is stored appropriately," said Oregon Health Authority Public Health Director Rachael Banks. "So that it's kept out of the hands of children, for example."

In the first year of the program, the Oregon Health Authority sent underage buyers into more than 500 stores. And 26 percent of the time, the store failed to verify the minor’s age.

The violation rate in Lane County was exactly the same as the statewide average, at 26 percent. The OHA notes that not every tobacco retailer in Lane County, or the state in general, was inspected in 2022.

The inspection program is part of the state's strategy to prevent youth and young adults from picking up a dangerous habit.

“The reason why that’s important is because we know the majority of people who become addicted to tobacco and nicotine start before the age of 21,” said Banks.

First-time offenders can be fined $1,000, though Banks said retailers can appeal the penalty. Fines increase up to $5,000 for a fourth-time offense.

The goal isn't to raise revenue from fines, however.

"Ultimately our goal is to get (the number of violations) down," said Banks. "Ideally we want to have that number being zero."

Grocery stores were the most likely to fail the test in the first year of the program, with 37 percent of those failing the test when contacted by an underage decoy.

Convenience stores failed the inspection 23 percent of the time, and tobacco/vape shops failed 27 percent of the time.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December, 2018 and became News Director in March, 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
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