October 21, 2015

Amira Spears-Hardy
Amira Spears-Hardy addresses the board on Tuesday evening.

Middle and high school students told the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday evening  that too many fellow students use tobacco.

At an Oct. 20 public hearing at David Douglas High School -- the second hearing of the day - students told commissioners that they supported licensing tobacco retailers.

But they also supported raising the legal age for smoking and asked the board to consider banning flavored tobacco and creating more tobacco-free retail areas around schools.

High school student Marlisa Rebaum is a member of a tri-county group of students working to promote a tobacco-free world.
High school student Marlisa Rebaum is a member of a tri-county group of students working to promote a tobacco-free world.

“I’ve started seeing what they do to make kids more interested in tobacco, said Montre Harris, an eighth grader at Ron Russell Middle School . “Like putting in flavor and making the colors bright so they can see it and it smells good.’’

Harris said he came up with a slogan: “Do me a favor and ban the flavor.’’

His remark drew a round of clapping and laughter from the assembly in the David Douglas gymnasium.

The Board of County Commissioners is considering action to license tobacco retailers.

The rate of illegal sales of tobacco to minors in Multnomah County is triple the national rate according to the most recent Synar studies by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Licensure laws have been effective at limiting illegal youth access to tobacco products.

Marlisa Rebaum said she traveled from Westview High School in Washington County as a member of Rebels for a Cause,  a tri-county group of high school juniors and seniors who are working to promote a tobacco-free world. Since freshman year, she said she has watched older students walk to a nearby convenience store and buy cigarettes for their younger friends.

“No one was ever punished and no actions were ever taken against these students.’’

From left: Commissioner Smith, Chair Kafoury, Commissioner Shiprack and Commissioner McKeel.
From left: Commissioner Smith, Chair Kafoury, Commissioner Shiprack and Commissioner McKeel.

Hanan Yassin, another member of Rebels for a Cause, said there are at least five tobacco-selling shops within walking distance of Madison High School in Portland and that she regularly sees students visit them on their lunch hour to pick up food and tobacco.

Research shows that youths who go to school near outlets have twice the smoking rates of those who go to schools near fewer tobacco outlets, she said. “It’s discouraging.’’

Dr. Sharon Meieran, an emergency department physician at Kaiser Permanente, testified on behalf of the Oregon Medical Association and American College of Emergency Physicians.

She said she wanted wanted commissioners to hear “the truth’’ about what she sees in emergency rooms “from birth to death’’ regarding tobacco. In the elderly, she said regularly sees  people with lung cancer, emphysema, “and we accept that in a horrible way.”

But what is really frustrating, Dr. Meieran said,  is seeing children whose parents use tobacco who are hospitalized because of asthma and pneumonia.

Eighth grader Montre Harris poses for a picture with Commissioner Loretta Smith.
Eighth grader Montre Harris poses for a picture with Commissioner Loretta Smith.

“Tobacco is harmful for everyone but particularly the most vulnerable,’’ Dr. Meieran said.

Amira Spears-Hardy, 10, got right to the point.

“All my life I have disliked the smell of cigarettes. I know that kids my age glorify smoking,’’ she said. “We need to make cigarette smoking as ugly as it really is.’’

Commissioners are expected to release a draft ordinance by the end of October.