Douglas County Commission signals intent to raise age to buy tobacco products

photo by: Journal-World Graphic

The Douglas County Commission meets in the historic courtroom on the second floor of the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.

The Douglas County Commission signaled Wednesday that it would pass an ordinance increasing the age to legally buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping liquids, to 21.

All three county commissioners said they favored the age increase. But commissioners said formal action would have to wait until county counselor John Bullock reviewed the measure, which was proposed by the LiveWell Lawrence Tobacco 21 task force and Resist, a Boys & Girls Club anti-smoking team.

Commissioners said the age increase would be mostly symbolic. There are only four stores in the county’s unincorporated areas that would be affected. One of the issues commissioners asked Bullock to review is whether the commission had any authority to regulate sales at Clinton Marina, which is within Clinton State Park.

Tracy Russell, director of governmental relations for the Kansas branch of the American Heart Association, said more than 300 cities in the United States and 21 jurisdictions in Kansas have passed the Tobacco 21 Initiative, including Johnson and Shawnee counties. Topeka is the only jurisdiction in which the ordinance has been challenged, and the Kansas Supreme Court is expected to consider that case. The Kansas Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion last year that the age change falls under the home rule authority of local jurisdictions, she said.

Commissioners said the age change probably would be on its Sept. 26 agenda.

In other business, commissioners approved amending the county’s contract with Heartland Regional Alcohol and Drug Assessment Center, a move that the center’s executive director said would allow it to serve more clients.

Bob Tryanski, the county’s director of behavioral health projects, said the center plays a major role in the county’s behavioral health initiatives. One of the initiatives introduced this year with county funding is a $395,000 multiagency crisis team that helps people who come to the LMH Health hospital’s emergency unit with a mental health or substance abuse crisis, as well as people who are referred to the crisis team by other county health care providers. Heartland RADAC coordinates the ongoing substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, primary physical health care and housing counseling that the crisis patients receive after they leave the hospital.

Commissioners approved Tryanski’s proposal to increase Heartland RADAC’s contract from $90,000 to $115,000.

Jason Hess, Heartland RADAC executive director, said the agency had provided case coordination for 323 referrals since April 1, when the crisis team became fully functional. The additional $25,000 would allow Heartland RADAC staff to be available to the crisis team seven days a week and allow the agency to focus on patients living at the Lawrence Community Shelter, a source of many of its referrals, he said.

Tryanski said the $25,000 for the contract amendment would come from an unspent portion of the $900,000 that commissioners allocated in the 2018 budget so that Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and Heartland Community Health Center could hire four psychiatrists. Tryanski said some of the money wasn’t spent on salaries because of employment gaps that resulted from turnover.


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