Oregon lawmakers propose bill to ban flavored tobacco

Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 5:39 PM PST
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SALEM Ore. (KPTV) - A new bill introduced in the 2023 legislative session that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products and flavored e-cigarettes is getting resistance.

House Bill 3090 is a bipartisan bill that would ban all flavored tobacco products including menthol flavors and hookah. This bill follows an ordinance passed by Washington County in Nov. 2021 and a Multnomah County ordinance in Dec. 2022 that bans the sale of all flavored tobacco. However, a state circuit court judge ruled in Sept. 2022 that counties do not have the authority to create such a ban, it must come from the state level in order to create uniformity. So lawmakers are doing just that this legislative session. But not all are on board.

Johnathan Polonsky, CEO of Plaid Pantry Convenience Stores was one of the leaders of the opposition to the Washington County ordinance. Like then, he said a sweeping prohibition on flavored tobacco products will not do anything to prevent minors from accessing tobacco products, whether it’s natural or synthetic. He said his company has a robust process to keep minors from attempting to buy tobacco.

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“Plaid Pantry does our own internal things so our employees are well trained, we card every single person, every single time, whether you’re five or 105,” Polonsky said. “A lot of our customers don’t like that but when we explain the reasoning they agree to do it.”

Polonsky said state lawmakers should wait until the Food and Drug Administration makes a decision on the future of flavored tobacco products. Already the FDA has banned certain menthol-flavored products. According to, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, 30 percent of all cancer deaths are from smoking. They also claim young people are more likely to get addicted to nicotine through flavored tobacco products. So they applaud a bill that bans the sale of all flavored tobacco products in the country.

But unlike California’s recent ban on flavored tobacco, HB 3090 doesn’t have an exemption for hookah products. Maher Makboul owns a Mak’s Mini Mart in Southwest Portland that sells hookah products. He said for years the state has been trying to ban hookah so he sees this bill as another attack on his culture.

“They’re going after the middle eastern community, they’re going after middle eastern businesses, this is not right,” Makboul said.

He said taking away hookah is like taking away a piece of his middle eastern culture.

“When I go to your house and I want to hang out with you, the hookah is there, the tobacco is there,” Makboul said. “Conversations happen, politics, any discussion, it’s part of our life.”

Maher said he’s given testimony about this to elected leaders, including during public comment when Multnomah County was considering an ordinance to ban flavored tobacco products. But he said he feels like it’s fallen on deaf ears.

“Everybody has a choice in this country,” Makboul said. “What they want to do and what they don’t want to do and everybody especially these days, they’re smart enough to know what’s good for them and what’s not good for them.”

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Lisa Reynolds, Oregon State Representative HD 34 sent FOX 12 the following statement:

“The ban on the sale of flavored tobacco would include the product known as shisha. I explain why below, in a letter adapted from a compilation Dr. James Bishara (pediatric heart doctor) crafted last fall.

Shisha, the flavored tobacco used in water pipes known as hookah poses the same risks as other tobacco in addition to having several unique risks.

What we’ve learned from e-cigarettes is that the market is fluid and will shift to any available products. This was seen when former President Trump restricted the sale of only some flavors in certain e-cigarette delivery systems, the market quickly shifted to disposable systems that had no flavor restrictions. Therefore, It is entirely predictable to see an increase in youth hookah use if flavored shisha remains available.

The smoking mechanism of hookah shares some similarities to e-cigarette products. Much like how e-cigarettes use flavors, the absence of smoke and nicotine salts to provide a less noxious experience for their users, the water bowl cools and humidifies the smoke making hookah less noxious to its users while still having negative health effects.

Hookah has the additional appeal of being a social drug commonly used with friends in a bar-like atmosphere. It’s no surprise many hookah lounges are found near college campuses because of how attractive the social aspects of hookah can be for young people.

Hookah poses several unique risks to its users, especially children and adolescents. Hookah is typically consumed in long 1-hour sessions where the user inhales 100-200 times the amount of smoke, 9 times the carbon monoxide and 1.7 times the nicotine of a traditional cigarette. In addition to the harmful chemicals found in combustible tobacco smoke, hookah has additional chemicals from the charcoal used as a heat source.

If shisha/hookah were exempted from the ban on the sale of flavored tobacco, this grants hookah a flavor monopoly that the tobacco industry can exploit similar to how Trump’s flavor ban exemptions were exploited.

There seems to be a conflation between the origin of hookah from the middle east region and the presence of a significant cultural tradition. There are restrictions on hookah sales throughout several states in India and multiple Middle Easter/African nations. These bans were enacted because of the toll hookah tobacco was taking on the population, very similar to how tobacco caused a public health crisis in the US. This issue is best summarized by Dr. Mukherjea:

“‘Corporate co-optation of culture to harm the health of priority populations for the sake of financial benefit is a form of structural racism.’”