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Official admits enforcement limitations as tobacco and vape-buying age rises to 21 in OR

The manager of Valley Vapors on Broadway Street Northeast in Salem puffs away outside the store.

Starting Monday in Oregon, store owners caught selling tobacco or vaping products to anyone under 21 will face a $500 fine.

The fine will be $250 for store managers and $50 for employees. For managers and owners, the fines will double by the third offense.

It's all part of a new law that raises the legal age for buying tobacco and vaping items from 18 to 21.

On Thursday, one leading state official admitted enforcement efforts are limited.

Mike Honan, who co-owns Valley Vapors in Salem, told KATU they're ready for the big change on Monday.

"We'll uphold it and we have been, you know, since it's been 18," Honan said. "And we'll do that when they're 21."

Gov. Kate Brown, D-Oregon, signed the law into effect in August requiring anyone buying tobacco or vape products to be 21.

But Oregon Health Authority (OHA) with help from Oregon State Police (OSP) won't enforce it until Jan. 1.

"The crazy thing is all these customers that are 18 to 21 that are vaping now will just buy out of state 'cause you can buy it on the internet," Honan said. "And you do have to prove that you're 18, but a lot of states are still 18."

Katrina Hedberg, the state epidemiologist and health officer, told KATU they'll primarily rely on store inspections using retired officers and underage people to go in and try to buy products.

She said they're specifically targeting Oregon-based retailers.

"When it comes to buying things online, of course, that is nothing that we are able to very specifically regulate here in Oregon," Hedberg explained.

Oregon is the fifth state to increase the age to purchase tobacco to 21 along with California, Hawaii, Maine and New Jersey and at least 280 cities and local governments.

Hedberg said data shows at least 90 percent of adults who smoke report that they started before they were 18 and the vast majority before age 21.

"At 18, that might be a little young, you know. In some respects, you're still maturing, so I don't think 21 is overly zealous in one respect," Honan said. "But then again I think ... you can go across and sign up and go get your head blown off in Iraq, which is tragic. And yet they're trying to control vaping."

In 2005 the Boston suburb of Needham, Massachusetts became the first town in the country to raise the tobacco-buying age to 21. In the four years after that, researchers said the high school smoking rate was nearly cut in half.

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