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Lane County bans e-cigarette sales to minors

EUGENE — Lane County commissioners have voted to outlaw the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors.

The prohibition is part of a broader anti-tobacco measure approved Tuesday on a 3-2 vote.

The measure applies only in unincorporated parts of the county, but county officials said they hope cities take their cue from it, the Eugene Register-Guard reported. Lane County's two major cities are Eugene and Springfield.

The county says 59 retailers would be governed by the rules. About 250 other retailers inside cities won't be.

The county intends to begin random checks or "decoy purchases" to test whether tobacco retailers sell to minors, much as the Oregon Liquor Control Commission does with alcohol sales.

The ordinance requires tobacco retailers to buy an annual business license from the county. It prohibits retailers from providing coupons or other discounts for tobacco products or e-cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes often are described as a less dangerous alternative for regular smokers who can't or don't want to kick the habit. The battery-powered devices produce vapor infused with potentially addictive nicotine but without the same chemicals and tar of tobacco cigarettes.

The ordinance also blocks any new tobacco retailers from opening within 1,000 feet of schools, day care centers, libraries, playgrounds, youth centers, recreation facilities or parks.

The tobacco licenses haven't been set, but they are expected to run about $200 for new licenses and $125 for annual renewals. That would be in line with what some other jurisdictions on the West Coast charge, but significantly more than fees in Eugene and Springfield.

Businesses that don't buy county licenses or sell to minors would face fines of up to $1,500 and could lose their licenses after four violations.

Minors who are caught with e-cigarettes would be required to attend a tobacco cessation or education program for a first offense, and face fines of $100 to $1,000 for subsequent violations.

Retailers objected to the penalties in the measure as too harsh, and Dari Mart officials said using license fee revenue to pay for educational activities, instead of just enforcement, turns the fee into a tax. In Oregon, only the state can tax tobacco.

Commissioner Pete Sorenson said courts have held that governments can make health rules without intruding on commerce.

Commissioner Jay Bozievich based his no vote on the use of the license fees. He said he didn't want the ordinance to include bans on discounted tobacco products and restrictions on where new tobacco retailers can be located.