Oregon lawmakers want to raise tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21

Oregon would become the third state to raise the age of sale for tobacco products from 18 to 21 if lawmakers pass legislation backed by the American Cancer Society.

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, announced Wednesday morning that she will soon introduce a bill that would prohibit retailers from selling any tobacco product – including e-cigarettes – to anyone younger than 21.

Rep. Rich Vial, R-Scholls, also is sponsoring the bill, which the pair said has strong bipartisan support.

California and Hawaii already have the requirement. A similar bill failed in Washington last year.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Oregon, killing more than 5,500 Oregonians annually, according to the American Cancer Society.

Each year, roughly 1,800 Oregon kids become new daily smokers, the organization said, and unless current smoking rates decline, 68,000 Oregon kids alive today will die prematurely from tobacco use.

Dr. Brian Druker, director of the Oregon Health & Science University Knight Cancer Center, said the peak age for getting addicted to tobacco is between 18 and 21 years old.

“This bill will decrease the number of people who start smoking in our state by about 20 percent, and that translates into 1,000 lives saved per year,” Druker said.

Steiner Hayward introduced a similar bill in the 2015 session. This time, however, there are no criminal penalties.

The bill would impose no punishment on youth caught with tobacco. For a first offense, retail clerks selling to youth under 21 would receive a $50 civil penalty, and their managers would be fined $500. Fines would increase for subsequent offenses.

“As a family physician, I think it’s always better to prevent disease than to cure it,” Steiner Hayward said. “And one of the best things we can do in Oregon to prevent disease is to stop people from using tobacco and other dangerous products that contain nicotine and other harmful substances.”

tloew@statesmanjournal.com, 503-399-6779 or follow at Twitter.com/Tracy_Loew

(© 2017 KGW)


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