Could raising the legal age to buy tobacco products hurt local business?

County officials are still discussing the pros and cons of raising the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. The public has the opportunity to weigh in at a public forum Wednesday. (SBG photo)

EUGENE, Ore. – The age required to purchase tobacco could increase soon if Lane County leaders decide to implement the “Tobacco 21” ordinance.

If passed, Lane County could be the first county in Oregon to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

The main objective of the policy is to not penalize people who are already smoking, but to prevent teens from ever starting.

Health officials say up to 29 percent of 11th grade students in Lane County are using tobacco products and that number is on the rise.

“Lane County has some of the highest rates of underage tobacco use in the country,” said Fay Stewart, Lane County commissioner.

Stewart is a policy supporter. He said his own mother became addicted to cigarettes as a teen.

“And now in her later years, her health is compromised. She has heart and other issues,” Stewart said.

Tobacco-related health issues kill approximately two people in Lane County every day.

“The science says that when something is even slightly harder to do or get, people stop doing it in huge numbers,” said Jason Davis from Lane County Public Health.

Health officials say the ordinance won’t enforce a no-smoking policy for minors. Instead, it will crack down on retailers, preventing them from selling tobacco products to anyone younger than 21.

“Oh God, I'm definitely worried about business,” said Brittany Cherry, the manager of GJ Smoke Shop.

Cherry said her small business relies on younger consumers.

“A lot of people haven't moved out yet, so they're still living with their parents. They're kind of stocking up, so definitely there's a large amount of disposable income in that area,” she said.

As a small business, Cherry said they need every penny they can get.

The health of the community and the health of small businesses are two of many factors county leaders are taking into consideration.

“Even though it makes sense scientifically, it still needs to be right for our community. And it needs to be the right time for our community. And that's what these meetings are about,” Davis said.

County commissioners will consider what they hear from the public at the meetings and then they have three options:

  • They can vote the ordinance into law.
  • They can take it to a public vote.
  • They can amend the policy.

There’s still time for the public to join the conversation. The last public meeting is Wednesday, September 28 at Springfield City Hall from 5:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.

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