Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury on Thursday directed the Public Health Division to draft regulations that would restrict the sale of tobacco near schools and ban the sale of flavored tobacco in Multnomah County.
The request follows a series of briefings before the Board of Commissioners in which public health experts identified the leading causes of preventable death in Multnomah County. Those briefings culminated Thursday when the County’s Public Health Advisory Board urged commissioners to prioritize action on tobacco, nutrition and safer streets.
“Advisory boards are really important in this work. They bring community wisdom to policy-making,” Kafoury said. “We rely on their recommendations to guide our decisions.”
Kafoury, with support from commissioners, asked the advisory board to work with Public Health leaders to focus their initial regulations on tobacco.
“I’m particularly supportive around tobacco,” said Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, adding that she’s also interested in proposals to address alcohol abuse — one of the County’s leading causes of death and chronic disease.
“I started smoking when I was in seventh-grade because it was easy and accessible. I’ve stopped now,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. “Accessibility of tobacco and the flavors are an open invitation to our kids.”
“This is an area I’m very passionate about,” Commissioner Sharon Meieran said. “These are things we can and should tackle. There have been failures at the state level, but there’s a lot at the local level we can and should do.”
The advisory board proposed two levels of response for taking action — Top priorities the county can achieve or effect through direct legal action, and lower tier of priorities that County leaders can advocate for in the state legislature.
Those top priorities include tobacco control — restricting sales near schools and banning flavored tobacco, including menthol.
“We know the business model of Big Tobacco is to recruit younger users to replace those who have quit or been killed,” said advisory board member Daniel Morris. “You have the power to make some changes that would literally save thousands of lives; one of the most important things is to remove flavors from tobacco.”
The advisory board also asked commissioners to consider policies and programs that would improve access to fruits and vegetables as a top priority, both at County events and through community-supported agriculture partnerships with local farms.
Finally, the advisory board asked the County to consider a traffic safety as a top-level priority. Programs and policies that support the regional Vision Zero concept — a campaign to eliminate traffic-related deaths and injuries — would reduce the number of traffic fatalities, while also cutting air pollution and noise in lower-income neighborhoods.
Next-level priorities included advocating in Salem for a tobacco tax increase, considering a local tax on sugary beverages and continuing to promote regional housing-first policies.
“We look forward to working with the Board,” said Suzanne Hansche, chair of the advisory board. “We can stand with you, help with community connections and the community’s voice.”