Raising the Tobacco Sales Age Limit: Benton County Joins the Club

smokingRaising the age requirement for purchasing tobacco products has become somewhat of a national trend lately. With an increase in tobacco use among teens in Benton County, the decision was made to follow suit. Only several weeks ago Benton County officials discussed new plans to enforce a public ordinance that would boost the minimum age from 18 to 21 years old.

The Benton County Board of Commissioners, acting as the Benton County Board of Health, met on Sept. 20 to approve a resolution to back the Oregon Legislature in raising the minimum legal sale age for tobacco, e-cigarettes, and other nicotine products to 21 years. However, despite the support, the Legislature will determine whether Oregon does change the age limit in their upcoming session.

Corvallis is just one of several Oregon cities that have decided to alter their tobacco sales laws in order to prevent young teens from becoming smokers. On April 20, the Bend City Council passed a declaration of support for changing the minimum tobacco-buying age, and last week the Lane County Board of Health also endorsed a proposal to boost the legal age with their Tobacco 21 Ordinance. Even officials in Portland plan to follow suit. Two states—California and Hawaii—have already made it illegal for people under 21 to buy tobacco and nicotine products.

“Raising the tobacco sales age in Oregon to 21 is an effective intervention to get tobacco out of high schools and protect Oregon kids,” reads the latest statement released by the Commissioners regarding their support of the new legislature. “By adopting this resolution, the Benton County Board of Health remains committed to reducing tobacco use by young people.”

The rate of tobacco use among 11th grade teens in Oregon has increased according to data from the Oregon Healthy Teens survey, part of an annual study conducted by the Oregon Health Authority. The most recent survey showed that 4.6% of 11th-graders living in Benton County smoked cigarettes in 2013, and 3.3% had used e-cigarettes or other nicotine products. Last year, 7.2% of 11th-graders in Benton County smoked cigarettes, and 11.9% used e-cigs or vaping devices—an increase of almost 3% in cigarette use and over 8.5% in other nicotine products.

Public health data shows that 95% of current tobacco users started smoking before the age of 21. Since high school-age smokers under 18 usually get their 18-or-older friends to buy their cigarettes, raising the minimum age limit to 21 should make it harder for those younger students to get tobacco products. Public health officials believe raising the legal age limit will help prevent more kids from becoming regular smokers or getting addicted to nicotine.

By Kiki Genoa