Tobacco inspections, public health modernization discussed at CLHO meeting

During a Jan. 20 meeting, the Conference of Local Health Officials met to discuss tobacco retail inspections and receive an update on modernizing public health. 

The meeting was dominated by retail license compliance inspections, and the creation of a program that would allow counties to conduct their own instead of the Oregon Health Authority. Each retail store in Oregon that sells tobacco products undergoes two inspections per year to ensure they’re not selling products to minors and adults under the age of 21. 

 

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Currently, the Oregon Health Authority handles these inspections, and uses adults ages 19 and 20 who attempt to buy tobacco. If retailers sell tobacco to underaged people, they receive a fine. 

A proposal was put forward to allow local public health authorities to conduct these inspections and receive $250 for each retailer who they complete an annual inspection for, and $40 for each completed complaint inspection. The program would be voluntary, and the costs would be reimbursed on a fee-for-service model. 

This raised concerns among public health officials, including Joseph Fiumara, director of Umatilla County Public Health. Conducting inspections would cost his agency at least twice the reimbursement rate, he said. 

Sara Wylie, interim manager of the Oregon Health Authority’s Tobacco Retail License Program, said the reimbursement rate was calculated based on the state fee, and is divided between the costs the state would incur providing IT and legal costs for counties, and a portion other state costs. 

It was decided that the proposal should be taken back to the Health and Public Policy committee for additional work and engagement with counties. 

On modernizing public health, Sara Beaudrault, a policy analyst with the Oregon Health Authority, said the Public Health Advisory Board will determine its priorities for the 2023-25 biennial budget this month and during February’s meeting. During March and April, the Oregon Health Authority will work out concepts and funding recommendations to submit to the governor. 

During the 2023 session, they will work with legislators and stakeholders to allocate funding. Oregon has been working to modernize its public health infrastructure since the release of a task force report in 2014.