Multnomah Co. ends sale of flavored tobacco

Multnomah County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday afternoon to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products for the county.

The ban will take affect Jan. 2024 with no exemptions for hookah businesses or any other form of flavored tobacco.

Several of the commissioners said they were voting for the ban out of concern for public and youth health.

Supporters of the ordinance celebrated the vote and said the county had voted to protect the lives of people targeted by the tobacco industry.

“[Which includes] communities of color, LGBTQ and other marginalized people, and especially our kids,” said Marcus C. Mundy, executive director of the Coalition of Communities of Color and member of the Flavors Hook Oregon Kids coalition. “When the vast majority of our kids start using tobacco with a flavored product, we must do everything possible to prevent future generations from becoming lifelong tobacco users. This action is truly a win for Multnomah County, communities of color and our kids.”

However, during the public comment time before the vote, local business owners spoke against the ban. Two men said the ordinance’s lack of exemptions for hookah lounges would specifically harm minority-owned shops.

Lionel Clay said his family had invested in a hookah business, hoping it would become profitable and something they could pass on to future generations.

“As someone who has couched and worked with children for over 20 years, I get it,” Clay said. “I am against youth being prematurely exposed to tobacco.”

But a lack of exemptions for hookah did not make sense if the primary goal was to decrease youth access, he said.

Another man who spoke during public comment said he has invested $60,000 in his hookah lounge, and the flavor ban would put him, a Black business owner, out of business.

“It’s hard enough as a minority in Portland to own a business,” he said. “And the primary focus of this is to stop kids from smoking. A hookah lounge has nothing to do with kids. Kids are using devices smaller than your hand. A hookah device is about three feet tall. It’s kinda ironic that we push – we say – we’re going to support minority owned business.”

He said Portland liquor stores, weed dispensaries and cafes are all primarily owned by Caucasians.

“The one business that is primarily – I’d say 100% – by minorities, and you guys are trying to take it away,” he said. “Kids aren’t saying ‘hey, I can’t wait to go to a hookah lounge when I turn 21.’ That’s not the deal.”

Hookah lounges are a safe space for non-white people, he said.