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Oregon Health Authority: illegal sales on the rise across the state since Jan. 1

In an effort to increase public awareness of the rate of retail tobacco sales to underage people, the Oregon Health Authority put out a report naming all locations the Oregon State Police had inspected this year. Two Sandy area tobacco retailers were listed as having sold tobacco to people under the legal age — Leathers Fuels in Sandy and Mt. Hood Foods in Rhododendron.

Dr. Tom Jeanne, deputy state health officer at the OHA Public Health Division, told The Post that "it's certainly possible some retailers aren't aware of the law change."

The legal age for purchasing cigarettes and tobacco products was raised from 18 to 21 in January. The OHA is still working to publicize the change and educate businesses, which sell tobacco products on the new law.

Lila Leathers, owner of Leathers Fuels, was unaware of the violation, which occurred at 10:03 a.m. Feb. 24, at her Sandy location before being contacted by The Post. Jeanne said this may be because at the time of inspections OSP officers can only issue citations to the cashier present, unless management is present. So if a manager or owner isn't on site when the inspection happens, they very well may not find out about the violation from their employee.

The report, Jeanne noted, is one way now employers have public access to that information.

"We are not proud of (this incident)," Leathers said. "It is totally dependent on the cashier (that this happened). This is not something I condone."

General manager of Mt. Hood Foods, John Archer, was likewise unaware that one of his cashiers had failed an inspection at 3:48 p.m. March 3, but said "it doesn't surprise me. It does happen on occasion, but we do our absolute best to check verification."

The report includes data from the first six months of 2018 and is available to view online at https://bit.ly/2OTpAWj.

The report shows that since the new law's implementation on Jan. 1, the retailer violation rate was 18 percent statewide, 2 percent higher than the previous year.

"Selling tobacco to people under 21 years old is illegal, but these data show that nearly one out of every five tobacco retailers in Oregon still sells to people under the legal age," said Jeanne. "Tobacco remains the No. 1 preventable cause of death and disability and kills nearly 8,000 people in Oregon each year."

The OHA's statement announcing the report also noted that "(tobacco) costs the state $2.5 billion per year in medical costs and lost productivity. A key part of ending tobacco addiction in Oregon is making sure youths don't start. Oregon was the fifth state to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21."

Those businesses found violating the law and selling to underaged customers can face a fine of up to $500 for the first or second violation and up to $1,000 for three or more violations.

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