By Scott Hammers

The Bulletin

Starting Jan. 1, the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products in Oregon will increase to 21.

The new law applies to cigarettes and other forms of smokable tobacco, chewing tobacco and its variants, and to e-cigarettes and vaping devices. But possession and use of tobacco products by individuals 18 to 20 years old remains legal.

The law officially went into effect Aug. 9 with the signature of Gov. Kate Brown but was written to delay enforcement of the change until the new year.

Oregon is now the fifth state to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21, following Hawaii, New Jersey, California and Maine. Some local governments, including the city of Chicago, have adopted similar ordinances.

Penny Pritchard, tobacco prevention coordinator with the Deschutes County Public Health Department, said tobacco use among the general population and youth has been on a downward trend for years, with the exception of e-cigarettes and vaping.

According to the state student wellness survey administered in 2016, 19 percent of 11th-graders in Deschutes County reported vaping within the 30 days prior to the survey, while just 9 percent said they had smoked a cigarette.

Pritchard said the theory behind raising the minimum age is built on the idea that young people often depend on their older peers to access tobacco products.

Ninety percent of adults who smoke report they started before turning 18, and the survey of 11th-graders indicate friends are the most common source of tobacco products for 11th-graders who use tobacco. Because high school students are far more likely to have friends over 18 than over 21, Pritchard said pushing the minimum age for buying tobacco to 21 should help limit teens’ access.

As to tobacco users who will find themselves unable to purchase tobacco products come New Years Day, Pritchard suggested they familiarize themselves with the state’s “quitline,” a 24-hour phone hotline with resources for users looking to quit. Depending on the user’s health insurance, the quitline may be able to steer them toward patches, gum or other nicotine replacement therapies.

Pritchard said the recent emergence of e-cigarettes and vaping and their use among young people caught health officials flat-footed. State health officials were slow to add e-cigarettes and vaping in the student wellness survey, she said, and have not yet added questions on how frequently underage users purchase vaping supplies online by misrepresenting their age.

Retail clerks who knowingly sell tobacco products to underage buyers after Jan. 1 will be subject to a fine of up to $50, with managers subject to a fine of up to $250 and higher fines for repeat offenses.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387,