Judge rules against Oregon County ban on flavored tobacco

HILLSBORO, Ore. — A judge in Washington County, Oregon has ruled against the county’s 2021 ban on flavored tobacco products, which means adults over 21 can still buy them .

Circuit Judge Andrew Erwin wrote in his opinion this week that the decision to ban the licensed retail sale of such products must come from the state, not county by county, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

“Certainly the county has broad power to regulate how sales are conducted, but they cannot outlaw them altogether,” Erwin wrote.

Commissioners voted last November to ban products intended to limit nicotine use among teens and young adults. County officials have argued that flavors such as chewing gum are hooking young people, who buy the products from retailers that don’t check IDs.

The county just west of Portland claimed it had the authority to enact the ban under Senate Bill 587, a 2021 law that gave public health agencies the power to regulate the sales of tobacco.

The first ban in Oregon went into effect in January but has not been enforced.

Jonathan Polonsky, CEO of the Plaid Pantry convenience store chain, collected enough signatures to put it on the Washington County ballot. Other retailers have challenged the ban in court.

Voters overwhelmingly backed the measure in May, but Erwin issued a preliminary injunction against it in July.

Washington County officials said in a written statement Wednesday that they may appeal the decision.

Tony Aiello, attorney for the retailers who filed the lawsuit, applauded the judge’s opinion but is preparing for a possible appeal, he said.

Jamie Dunphy, an Oregon lobbyist for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said the group couldn’t be more disappointed.

In August, Multnomah County health officials in Portland said they were drafting a proposal to also ban the sale of flavored nicotine products.

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