NEWPORT — Continuing efforts to license businesses that sell tobacco in Lincoln County could see the price of a pack of cigarettes go up 12 cents to pay for the county tracking and licensing tobacco sellers, according to the county’s Health and Human Services Department.
Some public health officials say further regulation would minimize youth access to tobacco and cut down on costs related to lost productivity and medical expenses. The county does not currently monitor or impose fees on tobacco sales.
Approximately 29 percent of adults in Lincoln County smoke cigarettes, higher than the state average of 17 percent and the national average of 16 percent. That equates to one in three adults in Lincoln County regularly smoking tobacco.
While county health officials are pursuing the new regulations, there is no timeline on when the licensing policies will be adopted.
“We’re not sure,” said Faire Holliday, health education specialist for Lincoln County. “Our plan is to go to all the city councils in the next couple months and talk to them and see how they feel about rolling it out county-wide. I’m optimistic we can be done with it by December, but it really depends. The policy wheel moves kind of slowly sometimes.”
Adults aren’t the only ones to smoke cigarettes in large numbers here, either. One in 13 high school juniors smoke cigarettes and one in 11 smoke e-cigarettes. One in nine people in this county have a serious illness related to tobacco use and tobacco products contribute to 182 deaths a year on this stretch of the coast, according to study figures.
Here in Lincoln County, 95 percent of convenience stores sell tobacco products, while 78 percent of grocery stores do the same. There are also a number of tobacco-specific retailers, like smoke shops, as well as pharmacies, campgrounds and big box stores that all sell tobacco products here.
“Tobacco is one of the most available products in our community,” reported Holliday, who compiled the numbers.
The county may require retailers who sell cigarettes and the like to be licensed to sell those items the same way liquor and marijuana retailers are required to be licensed. This would mandate an annual application and fee from each retailer for a non-transferable license. Each seller would also be given educational materials about tobacco and county officials would plan at least one unannounced site visit per year to each retailer. Violators would be penalized, although it’s not clear what the penalty would be.
“It hasn’t been decided yet,” said Holliday of what the penalty would look like. “We’ve seen a variety across the county. Some start with a warning letter, some with a fine. We’d be looking at what others are doing and figure out what is best for us.”