City Hall

City Hall

As more cities and counties raise tobacco age, state lawmakers may be asked to intervene

The Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

The Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

December 24, 2017

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— As a group in Lawrence prepares a strong push for local regulations that would raise the minimum age for buying tobacco to 21, efforts may be underway at the state level to push for a law that would pre-empt the ability of local governments to enact such laws.

Kansas Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, confirmed Thursday that he has requested an attorney general's opinion about whether such local ordinances are allowed under current law.

In a telephone interview, Longbine said he asked for the opinion at the request of someone outside the Legislature, and that he personally has no position on the matter. He did not identify the person or organization that asked for the opinion.

"I don't have a dog in that hunt," Longbine said.

His request, however, came around the same time that the city of Topeka passed such an ordinance on Dec. 5.

Shortly after the Topeka ordinance passed, Lawrence City Commissioner Matthew Herbert reacted in a Facebook post: "Based upon the momentum it has received in various places around the state, I believe it will (inevitably) make (its) way before the Lawrence City Commission at some point. Your thoughts?"

In an email to the Journal-World Thursday, however, Herbert said he is not pushing for an ordinance in Lawrence.

"I have not expressed any interest in seeing that change occur," he wrote.

Such local ordinances are part of a national movement known as "Tobacco-21," which began in Ohio as a project of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation. It has now spread to more than 270 cities and counties in 18 states.

Rob Crane, a doctor and president of the foundation, said in a phone interview that after passage of the Topeka ordinance, 25 percent of the U.S. population now lives in a jurisdiction where it is illegal for people under 21 to buy tobacco products.

In Kansas, the movement began in 2015 when Wyandotte County became the first jurisdiction to enact a Tobacco-21 law. Since then, it has spread to 18 other cities and counties, including many of the Johnson County suburbs.

Scott Hall, senior vice president for civic and community initiatives at the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview that it was part of the chamber's initiative to make the Kansas City area one of the healthiest places to live in the United States.

"By raising the age from 18 to 21, you impact 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds, but you also impact 15- to 17-year-olds, and even young people who are younger than 15," Hall said. "Because what we find is, the social network within high schools is the infrastructure through which tobacco products are getting to those who are ages 17 and younger right now.

"Put more bluntly," he added, "seniors in high school are providing cigarettes and electronic cigarettes to sophomores in high school."

In Lawrence, the effort to begin passing local regulation got underway last month when the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department launched the Lawrence Tobacco-21 Task Force.

Chris Tilden, community health director at the department, said in an interview that the organization has only held one meeting and has not yet decided on a strategy. But he said he hopes to get a proposed ordinance on the Lawrence City Commission's agenda sometime in 2018.

In Kansas, cities and counties are vested with a limited amount of what is called "home rule authority," or the ability to decide for themselves what laws and regulations will apply in their jurisdictions.

But local ordinances can also be superseded by state law, as long as the state law applies uniformly to all cities or counties. In the case of tobacco purchases, state law sets the minimum age at 18, and that law applies uniformly throughout the state.

Organizers in the Tobacco-21 movement, however, say they believe local governments have the authority to enact stricter regulations than the state and that they would only be in conflict with state law if they lowered the minimum age.

"We've had a number of legal experts look at this, including the League of Kansas Municipalities, a group called the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium and some of our own chamber members that are law firms that are experts in this area of law," Hall, with the Kansas City chamber, said. "We feel confident that there is, within Kansas law, the opportunity for local jurisdictions to raise the minimum age to 21."

in the Kansas Legislature, however, there has been a growing trend of enacting legislation that specifically pre-empts local governments from enacting ordinances that state lawmakers find objectionable.

Notable examples of that have been in the area of gun control and concealed carry, mandatory inspections of rental housing, minimum wage rules and, in the city of Topeka, certain kinds of annexation.

Crane, at the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, said his organization made a strategic decision early on to focus on local governments because the tobacco industry — not to mention convenience stores, gasoline stations and a host of other industries that make money from tobacco sales — tend to have a large number of lobbyists and outsized influence in state legislatures.

Meanwhile, Topeka City Councilwoman Elaine Schwartz, who spearheaded the effort to pass the regulation in Topeka, said there was opposition from many of those groups to the Topeka ordinance.

"Even our mayor candidate (Spencer Duncan) — he's a lobbyist at the Statehouse for the convenience stores — was there to testify against it, so yes, they're under the dome, and several of them came, so we had some opposition, but not compared to the number of proponents we had," Schwartz, a retired executive director of the Kansas Public Health Association, said in a phone interview.

Duncan ran unsuccessfully for mayor in Topeka this year, losing to Councilwoman Michelle De La Isla. He is also the son of Tuck Duncan, a prominent lobbyist who has represented the alcohol and tobacco industries in Topeka.

Tuck Duncan did not respond to a request for comment.

So far, no bills have been pre-filed for the 2018 session dealing with the minimum age. Hall said he is not aware of any state that has enacted pre-emptive legislation after a city or county adopted a local regulation.

But Schwartz said she hopes the Legislature will eventually pass a state law raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21.

"Much like the Clean Air Act was passed in 2009 (prohibiting smoking in public facilities) in Topeka, you have to get cities to pass it first, and then the state passes it," she said. "So hopefully it'll be a state law."

Comments

Richard Heckler 3 weeks, 5 days ago

Too bad more humans are not afraid of cancer associated with Tobacco products.

What to do when a human needs a fix?

Take a 3 minute walk ......

Work out with weights...

Find something to laugh about...

Ride a bike .....

Create a conversation about the carcinogenic impact of smoking ...

Work out on an elliptical trainer ......

An ongoing 3000 piece puzzle .....

Seems like conservatives are more interested in collecting taxes contrary to their political rhetoric of course we taxpayers have known this for decades.

Gary Stussie 3 weeks, 4 days ago

You see smoking as a conservative thing Richard?

Surprised you did not add "Smoke a Joint" to your 3 minute list. Seems like most of the liberal states are (have) legalizing Marijuana ... but that is not for "Collecting taxes" ... is it? Start a conversation about the carcinogenic impact of smoking Marijuana.

Louis Kannen 3 weeks, 5 days ago

From the US Center For Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta,

"Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Cigarette smoking causes about one of every five deaths in the United States each year. Cigarette smoking is estimated to cause the following: More than 480,000 deaths annually (including deaths from secondhand smoke) 278,544 deaths annually among men (including deaths from secondhand smoke) 201,773 deaths annually among women (including deaths from secondhand smoke)"

Bob Summers 3 weeks, 5 days ago

Fewer people smoking means less tax money for the congenital Liberal to fritter away.

Where will they get your money from next?

Food?

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 weeks, 2 days ago

Bob is so right wing that the Kansas legislature is liberal.

Louis Kannen 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Sounds like your State's Legislative Lug-nuts are not only ignorant but also way overdue when it comes to stepping outside ( of the moolah ) for a breath of fresh air...with ol' "Tuck and duck" Duncan perhaps THE current $elf-$erving front runner.

Bob Smith 3 weeks, 4 days ago

The front-runner for egregious snark of the day has been identified.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 weeks, 4 days ago

"Kansas Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, confirmed Thursday that he has requested an attorney general's opinion about whether such local ordinances are allowed under current law. In a telephone interview, Longbine said he asked for the opinion at the request of someone outside the Legislature, and that he personally has no position on the matter. He did not identify the person or organization that asked for the opinion."

Hmmm. It would be interesting to see his donations. I wonder if a lot of tobacco companies have donated?

Trust me people. Don't take up smoking. It's smelly, costs too much money weekly, and will cost you your health. I was fortunate that the first time I gave into peer pressure and tried a cigarette I threw up, so I never took up the nasty habit. I know addictions can be daunting, but you can do it. There is help out there. You will smell better (yes, we can smell you), have a whole bunch more money, and be healthier. Your lungs will thank you, your bank account will thank you, and the people who have to smell you will thank you.

Gene Ralno 3 weeks, 4 days ago

If 21 is good, 40 must be better. If a law is necessary, make it a good one. Point is, this isn't the business of government. It's the business of business. And if tar harms someone, it becomes the business of the judiciary. C'mon, we don't need laws for everything. We already have a law that dictates the amount of sugar required to call a sugar cookie a sugar cookie. Good grief.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 weeks, 2 days ago

Bake your own sugar cookies, then you don't have to worry about it.

Bob Smith 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Smokers would not be such pariahs if so many didn't feel entitled to throw cigarette butts everywhere they went.

Aaron McGrogor 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Perhaps if there were always somewhere to discard the cigarette butt this would be lowered. But there often isn't.

Thomas Bryce Jr. 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Cigarette smokers could just put their spent butts in their pockets. Problem solved. Butt No! (Pun intended) they have to throw it onto the sidewalk and streets or in the parking lots or parks and make it everyone's problem. Want to kill yourself with tobacco? Do it in the privacy of your own home. It is your right to do so but do not make it a problem for others.

Bob Smith 3 weeks, 4 days ago

I've seen smokers walk past a trash can that included a receptacle for butts and throw their toxic garbage on the sidewalk 10 seconds later.

P Allen Macfarlane 3 weeks, 3 days ago

My peeve is when they throw out of the car window as they travel our streets and highways. Totally thoughtless.

Bob Smith 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Yup, I laugh when I see people rolling along holding their cigarette out the car's window. If it smells so bad, why do you put it in your mouth?

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 weeks, 2 days ago

You could carry a plastic bag in your pocket, rub it out on the sidewalk, then put the butt in the bag. And why throw it out your car window? Cars still have places to put your butts. Quit making others clean up after you. We are keeping your addiction legal, but you need to quit giving us excuses to make it illegal.

And, yes, Bob and I agree on this. Put it on your calendar. :>)

Aaron McGrogor 3 weeks ago

I agree people shouldn't just throw the butts out the window, but I do want to point out that not all cars have ashtrays. Again though, you can always make your own or like you mentioned, use a bag.

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