The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) working with multiple county health department staffs has completed a statewide assessment of Oregon retailers that carry tobacco to study tobacco industry marketing and the product’s reach – specifically where minors are concerned.
The report highlights ads and products designed to appeal to youth, as well as heavy marketing to communities of color and people living with lower incomes. It also included recommended strategies to help move retailers to a healthier position.
“The tobacco industry spends more than $100 million per year to market its products in Oregon communities,” Lillian Shirley, director of the OHA Public Health Division said. “It pours most of this money into convenience stores, grocery stores and other retailers where people shop daily. They know that kids who see tobacco marketing are more likely to start smoking and that tobacco ads trigger cravings for people trying to quit.”
Locally, the County Tobacco Prevention and Education Program (TPEP) coordinator and the Alcohol and Drug Prevention (ADPEP) coordinator made the visits to 38 retailers out of the county’s 40 local stores that carry tobacco.
In Columbia County, officials found that three in eight retailers advertised tobacco or e-cigarettes outside the store, and 97 percent sold flavored products. 17 percent of those stores sold products within a foot of toys, candy, gum, slushies and sodas, or ice cream.
“I think one thing that was surprising was the amount of flavored tobacco advertising,” Columbia Health Services (CHS) prevention coordinator Heather Oliver said. “In Oregon, nine out of ten tobacco retailers sold fruit and candy flavored e-cigarettes or cigarillos.”
The research conducted by CHS and other officials found that e-cigarettes are being sold locally in such flavors as “Pebbles Donuts” and “Tropical Fusion” which they say are aimed squarely at youth and young adults.
According to Smokefree Oregon’s report, a national study of youth and adults that examined flavored tobacco product use found that four out of five youth and young adults who have used tobacco started with a flavored tobacco product.
“Flavored tobacco products can mask the harshness of tobacco and tend to attract youth,” Oliver said.
Among 11th graders in Columbia County, e-cigarette use was higher than cigarette smoking in 2017, according to the report. It also found that by 8th grade, six percent of Columbia County’s students had used cigarettes. 13 percent of the county’s 8th graders had reportedly used e-cigarettes.
One of the problems Oregon faces, Oliver said, is that it is one of the few states that does not have statewide tobacco retail licensure. According to the report, having a system that tracks tobacco retailers and enforces laws that keep kids from buying tobacco is critical to reducing tobacco use.
“Tobacco retail licensure is the first step in addressing some of these concerns,” Oliver said. “Having a system in place so we know who is selling tobacco can help ensure that tobacco products don’t get into youths’ hands.”
Recommendations to combat tobacco industry marketing and advertising
Aside from recommending that Oregon have a tobacco retail licensure that has meaningful fees and penalties, the report recommends the following:
Raising the price of tobacco products: According to the report, raising the price of tobacco is the most effective way to reduce tobacco consumption. Approaches in this area would include prohibiting discounts, multipack offers and coupons that keep tobacco cheap. Statewide, 64 percent of retailers used these discounts, which officials said make tobacco more accessible to youth and people with lower incomes.
Regulating flavored tobacco products: The OHA said flavored tobacco is attractive to kids and masks the harsh taste and feel of tobacco products. The report recommends policies that restrict flavors in order to make tobacco products less appealing to youth. Statewide, 93 percent of retailers sold these products.
Proximity and density policies: The OHA suggests that zoning restrictions can cap the number of retailers in an area, and a minimum distance between retailers should be required. Retail locations near schools or other areas youth frequent should also be prohibited, the report said.
Tobacco free pharmacies: The report recommends prohibiting the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies where people go for medicine, flu shots and health care advice.
In 2018, Oregon began enforcing a new tobacco minimum legal sales age of 21. According to the OHA, initial results of the law show it may reduce the number of youth who start smoking.
Some cities and counties, like Klamath Falls and Multnomah County, have begun using tobacco retail licensure to track the sale of tobacco products, ensure retailers comply with the new sales age, and keep tobacco products out of the hands of children. Clatsop County is reportedly considering a similar proposal.
“Clatsop County school officials and public health staff have reported students using e-cigarettes and other nicotine-delivery devices at alarming rates,” Clatsop County health promotion specialist Julia Hesse said. “It seems inconceivable that we need a license to sell Christmas trees and own dogs in Oregon, but not to sell tobacco or nicotine products. We need a better way to hold retailers accountable if they illegally sell to youth.”
To learn more about the retail assessment results, broken down by county, and the ways communities can get involved, visit: https://smokefreeoregon. com/what-you-can-do/.