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Daily Newscasts

OR Healthcare Advocates Target Smokeless Tobacco

March 3, 2009

Salem, OR – Fewer people may be smoking,but tobacco companies are handing out free samples of other smokeless tobacco products in an effort to regain some of the market share they're losing with the prevalence of smoke-free workplace laws, such as the one that went into effect in Oregon in January.

Two bills in the Oregon Legislature aim directly at keeping tobacco products out of the hands of kids. One (HB 2358) ould prohibit the free samples handed out by tobacco companies at events; the other (HB 2136) would take tobacco out of vending machines.

Dana Kaye, executive director of the American Lung Association of Oregon, says the newest products look like gum and breath mints, and are being marketed to younger users and people who can no longer smoke on the job.

"No matter what we do, if we keep kids from using, then they're not going to turn into lifelong tobacco users and become an issue for the health economics of our state."

Portland has been a popular test market for tobacco products, says Kaye. In a first meeting about the sampling bill, lawmakers heard from a teen who has experienced "free sampling," firsthand.

"She was 13 years old; she got three cans of chew tobacco handed to her at this event - they didn't ask for her I.D. We also know that, in Oregon, one out of three 17-year-old males uses 'chew'."

Kaye says tobacco companies downplay the risks of heart disease, mouth and throat cancer that come with smokeless tobacco use. She believes the bills have a good chance of passing this year, because there's no additional enforcement cost associated with them, and they would have a positive impact on health and healthcare costs.

The tobacco lobby is strong, however, and opponents of the legislation don't believe the state has a right to restrict tobacco use, as a personal choice.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR