Lane County poised to be first in Oregon to raise legal age for tobacco to 21

Clerks will have to check ID to see if buyers are 21, not 18, under a county ordinance coming up for a vote early in 2017. (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. - The Lane County Commission voted 4-1 to direct staff to draft an ordinance raising the legal age for tobacco use from 18 to 21.

The ordinance will go before the board for a formal vote early in 2017.

The move puts Lane County on track to be the first county in Oregon to raise the legal age for tobacco use, according to Karen Gaffney, assistant director of Lane County Health and Human Services.

Raising the age is believed to be an effective means to prevent underage smoking, she said.

"The Institute of Medicine study anticipates that 25 percent reduction in initiation -so first use of tobacco among 15 to 17 year olds - if the age of purchase increases to 21," Gaffney said Tuesday.

Preventing youth from starting the habit has been a driving force behind the effort to raise the legal tobacco age.

“The science says that when something is even slightly harder to do or get, people stop doing it in huge numbers,” Jason Davis from Lane County Public Health said in September.

Commissioner Sid Leiken registered the lone "No" vote, arguing the age change should be made statewide, not county by county.

"I believe it would make more sense for a statewide," Leiken said. "I think with this, a 20-year-old in Junction City could go to Harrisburg and buy their cigarettes."

Rick Johnson at MidTown Direct Smokeshop had a similar reaction.

"My opinion is that it's going to create a black market probably for 18 to 21 year olds," he said. "They get what they want. They're going to figure a way around it. I don't think legislation is really the answer to keep people from smoking."

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