Kansas City leads The Midwest By Voting To Raise The Legal Age For Tobacco Purchases To 21

In an effort to discourage underage smoking and attempt to keep some teens from ever lighting that first cigarette, Kansas City and Wyandotte County banned the sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21 on Thursday.

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The Kansas Council played a huge part in leading the area in voting to raise the legal age for tobacco purchases from 18 to 21. Not long after, the Board of Commissioners of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., followed their lead.

“This is a community-driven initiative,” Kansas City Councilman Scott Taylor said before the council’s vote. He said other regions have taken this step, but not many in the Midwest, so Kansas City could be a leader.

Taylor commented that many adults who smoke support this decision because they wish they had never started smoking.

“Up to 95 percent of people who smoke are addicted before their 21st birthday”, Taylor said. “And, young smokers often get their cigarettes from older smokers who are old enough to purchase them.

“Raising the legal age for these purchases cuts off the sale point and breaks up the network,” Taylor said.

Mayor for the Unified Government, Mark Holland, said they coordinated with Kansas City leaders to make a bigger influence together.

“I think this sends a strong message across the metropolitan area,” said Holland.

The Tobacco 21/KC campaign was first launched in October by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City along with other organizations. The ultimate purpose of the launch was to get every store in the metro area to raise its legal age for buying any tobacco products, which includes e-cigarettes, from age 18 to 21 just like it is for alcohol.

Supporters of the campaign said that Thursday’s votes were a big first step.

“This is a time to really celebrate,” said Kansas City Health Department director Rex Archer. “It looks like our effort to reduce heart disease has stalled. This will be important in getting that going.”

Raising the tobacco purchase age “will help us prevent folks from becoming addicted,” Archer said.

Nationwide, there have been more than 100 cites that have raised their tobacco purchase age to 21, including New York City and the state of Hawaii. Until Thursday’s vote, no city in Kansas had raised the age.

The Kansas City Council voted on three particular areas: prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to those under the age of 21; prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes and other vapor and alternative nicotine products to those under 21; and adding the use of vapor products to existing prohibitions on smoking in enclosed public areas such as restaurants and bars.

Councilman Quinton Lucas said he was against the age change at first because he didn’t want to criminalize young people under the age of 21, but he agreed after he found out that the ordinances apply to the seller, not the purchaser. The penalty is a $100 fine for the first offense.

The age ordinance goes into effect in 10 days and the vapor prohibition in enclosed public areas will be in effect two months from now.

The ordinance passed by a 6-1 vote from the Unified Government commissioners.

Holland commented that his hope was that the ordinance would cut down on smoking and hopefully improve the health of Wyandotte County residents, who he says, often rank very low on health surveys.

“I think it’s important, particularly for a community that has a lack of access to health care,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Kane was the only commissioner who voted against the ordinance.

Kansas City Council members have received some negative feedback from the decision. Some of the local vapor shops are arguing that vapor products are a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco and that raising the legal age is an infringement on small-business rights.

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If the Tobacco 21/KC campaign is a success, the Kansas City area would be the second largest metro area in the United States to raise the minimum tobacco age to 21. New York City was the first.

Do you agree or disagree with this campaign?

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