Lawrence City Commission to discuss raising tobacco age to 21

photo by: Richard Gwin

Signs warning against the sale of tobacco to minors are displayed in the window of a Lawrence store, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016.

The discussion of whether the city of Lawrence should create a local ordinance to raise the age to purchase tobacco-related products to 21 will be coming to City Hall.

At the City Commission’s meeting Tuesday, Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen made a motion to add the topic to a future commission work session agenda. Larsen said she would like to have a discussion about the pros and cons and about what other cities are doing.

“There seems to be a big push,” Larsen said. “I think that there’s some merit to getting more details about what would be expected from that type of a program.”

City staff both said that a key element of that discussion would be the legality of such ordinances. City Attorney Toni Wheeler told the commission that the city of Topeka’s ordinance raising the age to 21 has been successfully challenged in court and that city staff would continue to review the case.

“We’ll have some more information on the legality here soon,” Wheeler said. “It’s not a closed question yet.”

About 20 other cities in Kansas have passed “Tobacco 21” ordinances. On March 23, a judge ruled that Topeka, as a city, had no authority under the Kansas Constitution to enforce the ordinance. However, earlier, in December, the Kansas attorney general had issued an opinion that cities and counties may use their home-rule authority to enact local laws raising the age for buying tobacco.

Wheeler told the commission that the city of Topeka had 30 days to file an appeal of the judge’s ruling. She also said that if Lawrence were to create a local ordinance, the city would have to set up an enforcement mechanism.

The commission’s discussion comes after local groups have pushed for an ordinance to raise the tobacco age to 21. Last month, some local high school students told the commission that a growing number of their peers were using e-cigarettes and they requested that the city raise the age to purchase tobacco-related products to decrease accessibility at the high schools.

Mayor Stuart Boley seconded Larsen’s motion, and the commission voted unanimously to add the discussion to a future work session agenda. Boley said he thought the commission would continue to hear from the public on the topic, and that he’d also like to hear from other communities about how enforcement is going.