Two Johnson County, Kansas, cities took opposing actions on tobacco control Monday evening.
The Prairie Village City Council voted unanimously to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco products and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21, while the Gardner city council rejected a similar proposal by a unanimous vote of 5-0.
Council members said that 18-year-old are able to enlist in the military and so they should be allow to choose whether they smoke. One commented that smokers generate funds for state health programs through taxes on tobacco. Some council members questioned the effectiveness of the Tobacco 21 strategy.
A handful of area cities have raised their tobacco buying age since the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce launched its Tobacco 21 campaign in October of 2015. They include Kansas City, Olathe and Iola in Kansas and Kansas City, Gladstone and Independence in Missouri.
Advocates say raising the age reduces overall smoking because most smokers start as teens.
Scott Hall, vice president for strategic initiatives for the chamber, was hopeful Monday afternoon that both small cities would follow the others’ lead.
“They’re both important because there are kids that live there and there are people that shop there,” Hall said. “And the more unified the entire metro is around this idea, the more lives will be saved.”
He said more local cities will need to adopt a higher buying age for the program to have its greatest effect.
“What that would really mean is, those young adults who really work hard to go across a jurisdictional boundary to buy cigarettes at age 18, 19, 20, would have a more difficult time doing that if the entire greater Kansas City metropolitan area was Tobacco 21,” Hall said. “And that’s our hope.”
Hall said Bonner Springs, Grandview, Leawood, Lenexa and Overland Park will all consider raising their tobacco buying ages to 21 in the coming months.
Alex Smith is a reporter for KCUR, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team. You can reach him on Twitter @AlexSmithKCUR