PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Lawmakers and other supporters of a statewide ban on flavored tobacco products discussed the proposed legislation in a press conference on Tuesday.

Potential bans against flavored tobacco and vape products have been an ongoing battle — locally and around the country — with supporters seeing it as a way to discourage teens and children from vaping, even though the legal age to purchase tobacco products in Oregon is 21.

Opponents, meanwhile, say it penalizes adults who want these options. Those supporting it accuse tobacco companies of targeting youth with candy-like flavors in vaping products.

“Products with flavors like Cotton Candy and Orange Soda are clearly marketed to kids, and ending the sale of flavored tobacco products will protect their health and prevent them from becoming lifelong tobacco users,” Flavors Hook Oregon Kids stated in a press release.

Flavors Hook Oregon Kids says they are a statewide coalition of more than 50 organizations focused on ending the sale of flavored tobacco products, including the Campaign for
Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action
Network, American Lung Association, Kaiser Permanente and other community-based organizations.

A recent poll of 800 Oregonians by a FM3 Research, which backs the ban, shows 62% support it. When asked whether it’s more important to help prevent kids from using flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes by ending sales of these products, 60% said yes — but 35% believe it’s more important to protect the right of adults to buy these products.

Business owners who sell the products believe there are other ways to prevent access.

“Let’s make it to where this is an adults store only, 21 and older, so it’s not in mini-marts,” Vape Crusaders CEO Jason Weber said. “Just like we do with alcohol — no one worries that we have flavored alcohol, we have flavored weed, so if that’s what makes things good, then why not put [the products] in a 21-and-older store?”

However, health leaders in Oregon and around the country say the data shows a ban is what works best to keep kids from getting hooked on nicotine, especially when tobacco companies’ messaging is that it’s safer than regular cigarettes.

Some lawmakers KOIN 6 News talked to on Tuesday are doctors who treat children — and say they want to protect kids who are still getting access when the age to purchase is 21 here. 

When asked why kids wouldn’t just turn to illegally buying products online, Rep. Maxine Dexter (D-Portland) said she thinks a lot of the purchases now are in-store impulse buys.

“I do think if we can definitely unload the availability of these products, then we will see a marked decline in their use,” Dexter stated.

Online sales are only legal for retailers and distributors. House Bill 3090 would block all sales of menthol cigarettes as well as other flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes in Oregon. 

Businesses that sell the products say that would put them out of business and they say the state should do a better job policing sales to protect minors.

Multnomah County commissioners approved a ban on flavored vape products, which is scheduled to start next year. Washington County’s ban is on hold, currently tied up in court challenges. 

California, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island have statewide bans on flavored tobacco and vape products.