Deschutes County is considering requiring businesses that sell tobacco to get a retail license.

The Redmond City Council heard a recent proposal from the Deschutes County Health Services department about the fiscal impact of such a license. The proposed license is part of the county’s effort to curb tobacco sales to minors and to educate business owners on state laws, said Tobacco Prevention Coordinator Peggy Pritchard during a presentation earlier this week.

“We didn’t want to put forward a recommendation that is a just feel-good policy that wouldn’t actually lead to a reduction in sales to kids,” she said. “There’s a spectrum of options for the city, and (it) is still up for discussion.”

The Health Services department presented the council with results from a survey conducted by a county committee exploring the fiscal impact of a tobacco retail license. The county-wide survey included participation and feedback from 19 business owners in the county — of which six business owners were in Redmond — and showed that there is little to no training of staff about how to verify the age of purchasers during tobacco sales. With no real training or basic standard for disciplinary action for selling to underage buyers, state laws cannot be truly implemented at a local level, Pritchard said.

The state Legislature recently passed a law that raised the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21, and many local business owners were unaware of the change in law, she said. The county’s attempts to notify business owners are also difficult because “anyone can basically set up a lemonade stand of tobacco products,” as council member Joe Centanni pointed out.

“How are we supposed to educate business owners if we don’t actually know who they are?” Pritchard asked. “We can regulate if there is licensure in place.”

The tobacco retail license proposal would also allow officials to enforce the restriction of tobacco sales at stores that are within 1,000 feet of a school, though existing stores would be grandfathered in, Pritchard said.

“Public policy is the best way to approach youth prevention and initiating the practice,” Pritchard said.

Mayor George Endicott expressed his support of the proposal, along with council members Centanni, Ginny McPherson and Jay Patrick, though the discussion is still ongoing and city officials will be able to choose various options, including the license fee required. A recommendation in favor of the proposal could come when city staff and Deschutes County commissioners have a joint workshop Nov. 14.

The proposed tobacco retail license must be approved by the Deschutes County Commission before it goes into effect.

— Reporter: 541-617-7829, acolosky@bendbulletin.com

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