Washington County voters uphold strict flavored nicotine ban

Washington County voters on Tuesday upheld a ban on flavored nicotine products, rejecting by a wide margin an attempt to overturn it spearheaded by convenience store chain Plaid Pantry.

The ban, which applies to flavored tobacco, vape and other synthetic nicotine products, is the most restrictive in the state.

Washington County commissioners approved the ban in November, and enforcement was supposed to start in January. But the county had to put the new regulation on hold after Plaid Pantry Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Polonsky gathered enough signatures to put the ban on the ballot, resulting in Measure 34-314. Preliminary results as of 8:10 p.m. showed 77% of Washington County voters rejecting the measure and just 23% voting to approve it.

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The campaign to overturn the ban was initially funded by about $60,000 in donations from tobacco companies. But that effort fizzled soon after Polonsky’s group, dubbed No on 878, ran a poll on Washington County voters’ positions. The name of the group refers to the ordinance commissioners passed in 2021.

Polonsky said he realized the ballot measure language was confusing, because people might not understand that voting for the measure meant voting against the ban. Instead of continuing to campaign, he decided to challenge the measure language in Washington County Circuit Court. That challenge was dismissed last week.

The group campaigning for the ban and against the measure, Flavors Hook Oregon Kids, outraised the anti-ban group by nearly 12-to-1. Most of that was donated by Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund, a national group working to reduce tobacco use.

Washington County’s flavored nicotine ban is the latest example of efforts in Oregon to sharply curtail nicotine and tobacco use. In 2021, the state put a substantial tax on vaping products and, as of this year, requires all nicotine retailers to be licensed. Before the pandemic, Multnomah County commissioners discussed instituting a similar ban.

— Fedor Zarkhin