Gene J. Puskar The Associated Press
Gene J. Puskar The Associated Press

Government & Politics

KC Council committee supports raising legal age for tobacco purchases from 18 to 21

By Lynn Horsley

November 18, 2015 01:29 PM

The Kansas City Council is expected Thursday to raise the legal age for tobacco purchases in the city from 18 to 21.

Thursday’s vote would follow Wednesday’s 3-0 decision by the Public Safety Committee to support that change, after supporters argued that most addicted smokers get hooked before age 21.

The Kansas City ordinance, sponsored by a majority on the 13-member council, would prohibit stores from selling cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco or alternative nicotine products to anyone under age 21.

“It’s one of the most effective ways to prevent kids from acquiring a noxious habit,” Jim Heeter, president of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, told the committee.

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Heeter said younger smokers often get their cigarettes from high school students who can purchase them, and it’s a path to addiction.

The chamber is leading a campaign to get the entire metro area to raise the legal age, which would make the Kansas City region the second-largest in the country to do so, after New York City. More than 100 area organizations have supported this move.

The Unified Government’s board of commissioners in Wyandotte County is expected to vote on a similar measure Thursday evening.

In Kansas City, the violation would apply to the seller, with a $100 fine for a first violation. Councilman Quinton Lucas said having the violation apply to the seller rather than to the purchaser alleviated his fear about criminalizing a young person for purchasing a legal product.

Many who testified to the public safety committee supported the move, but Curt Diebel, owner of Diebel’s Sportsmens Gallery, argued it should not apply to premium cigars. He said people over age 18 like to purchase those for celebrations. The committee did not exempt cigars as Diebel requested.

Councilwoman Katheryn Shields missed Wednesday’s hearing but said she plans to vote against the change. While she has never smoked and does not support young people smoking, Shields said she supports the current age limit.

“I just feel if you’re 18 years old and you can go to war and you can vote,” Shields said, “you’re old enough to make decisions for yourself.”

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley