Public health advocates asked the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday to raise the minimum age to purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21.
The recommendation came as commissioners held their first public hearing to consider charging between $350 and $600 in licensing fees to retailers who sell tobacco products, including cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and electronic devices that vaporize liquid nicotine.
Many minors get cigarettes from friends who are over 18, but many don’t have social circles that expand to people over 21, some advocates told commissioners. About 95 percent of smokers become addicted by the age of 21, said Linda Roman, policy director of the Oregon Health Equity Alliance.
Commissioner Jules Bailey supported raising the age requirement. No other commissioner reacted to the recommendation during the hearing. Teenagers know where to buy cheap cigarettes.
“I think it only makes sense and we could save a lot of lives doing it,” Bailey said.
Hawaii is the only state that requires the minimum age to be 21, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah require the age to be 19.
Three out of four adults favor raising the minimum age, according to the CDC. That includes seven of 10 adult smokers who agree.
County health officials and anti-tobacco advocates have asked commissioners to establish stricter regulations on employers and retailers. In March, the county adopted a ban on the use of electronic cigarettes. In May, commissioners discussed sales tax options, and last month, they reviewed how other cities and counties operate license programs and how much they charge retailers.
Roman suggested four policies for the county to consider, including licensing requirements, minimum prices of cigarette packs, the new minimum age, and zoning requirements, such as keeping new retailers at least 1,000 feet from schools.
Revenue from licensing fees would pay for administration, enforcement and spot checks to ensure retailers follow state and federal laws, she said. It would also pay for education programs, in several languages, to retailers about selling tobacco and keeping the product away from children.