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DHS news release

January 5, 2005

Contact: Jim Sellers (503) 945-5738

Program contact: Jeff Ruscoe (503) 945-5901

Retail tobacco inspections to begin 11th year in early January

(Details about reporter ride-alongs at end of news release)

Having just recorded the lowest-ever rate of tobacco sales to minors, state officials said Wednesday they are cautiously optimistic that the downward trend of illegal sales will continue.

A new round of federally required inspection visits to more than 375 of Oregon's 2,800 known tobacco retailers statewide will begin early this month and continue into June.

"The longer we can delay people's first use of tobacco, the less likely they will ever start, become addicted and suffer the long-term health consequences," said Jeff Ruscoe, prevention coordinator in the Oregon Department of Human Services.

Ruscoe said a teen-ager who is 14, 15 or 16 (and looks that age) will be accompanied by a retired plain-clothes state police officer when trying to buy a tobacco product such as cigarettes, chewing tobacco, pipe or rolling papers. Clerks who sell are subject to a fine of $100 to $600 for the Class D violation of endangering the welfare of a minor (ORS 163.575).

This year inspectors will also check retailer compliance with a new law requiring tobacco products to be kept behind the counter or in a locked case if the store admits minors. Stores that receive a visit are selected randomly, Ruscoe said.

Meanwhile, clerks last year sold to minors 14.6 percent of the time, the lowest in the 10 years Oregon has checked compliance with state law prohibiting sales to minors. The federal government requires a sales rate below 20 percent.

Ruscoe said clerks in nine counties complied with state law 100 percent of the time: Crook, Deschutes, Hood River, Malheur, Polk, Sherman, Union, Wallowa and Wheeler counties. Among counties where minors successfully bought tobacco products, he said, Clackamas and Washington had the lowest rate with five sales out of 143 attempts, or a combined sales rate of 3.5 percent.

In counties where 10 or more retailers received an inspection visit, he said, the highest sales rates to minors were recorded in Clatsop and Tillamook counties with rates of nearly 65 percent and 39 percent, respectively. Multnomah County had a sales rate of nearly 22 percent, the state's eighth highest.

Among types of retailers, the highest sales rate, 42 percent, was in the "other" category, comprising outlets such as an airport news stand, bowling alley, hotel gift shop and gasoline stations selling tobacco at the pumps. Department stores recorded the lowest rate, selling to minors 8.3 percent of the time.

Ruscoe said budget reductions in the state Tobacco Prevention and Education Program have him concerned about what to expect from this year's results. Although all 36 counties once had local tobacco-education coalitions, he said, the number has dropped to 12.

"As the tobacco issue falls out of the news," he said, "retailers don't think about it as much."

Note: Reporters wishing to schedule a ride-along with inspectors may contact Karl Nelson of Oregon State Police: (503) 378-6517, ext. 275.