Douglas County Commission raises age to purchase tobacco products to 21 in unincorporated areas

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 Douglas County Commission has raised the minimum age to purchase tobacco products in the county’s unincorporated areas to 21.

The commission approved a resolution to raise the minimum age during its meeting on Wednesday. Commissioner Mike Gaughan said the county will soon publish the resolution and it will take effect 30 days later, meaning that the new rule will likely be in force by late October.

The measure affects all products that include nicotine, including the liquids used in electronic cigarettes. However, as of right now, there are only four stores in the county’s unincorporated areas to which it would apply.

On Sept. 12, representatives from LiveWell Douglas County, the Lawrence Boys & Girls Club, Lawrence Memorial Hospital and the Kansas chapter of the American Lung Association urged commissioners to raise to 21 the legal age to buy tobacco products, saying it would end the social chain of 18- through 20-year-old friends buying tobacco products for minors.

Gaughan said on Wednesday their presentations were very compelling.

“(They showed) how addictive these products are and how dangerous that is to adults if they get addicted when they are young,” he said. “So the opportunity to improve health outcomes for people in Douglas County, and hopefully beyond, is an area where Kansas counties and cities are getting out in front.”

Commissioner Nancy Thellman said one of the most compelling reasons she heard was that the Boys & Girls Club was dealing with kids who are using e-cigarettes.

“Apparently, (e-cigarettes) are just rampant in schools,” Thellman said.

A City of Topeka ordinance raising the age to 21 was struck down in court in March, but the commissioners said they are not worried about lawsuits. Gaughan said the county’s legal counsel went over the resolution and the commission is comfortable with it.

“If that’s where we end up, I think we’re on the right side,” he said of potential lawsuits.

Additionally, Thellman said raising the age to 21 is what many cities and counties nationwide are doing.

“By and large, there is a lot of momentum across the nation,” she said. “We’re not leading the way. We’re a little behind actually.”

Related stories

Sept. 23 — Questions remain as Lawrence considers raising age to buy tobacco products

Sept. 10 — Lawrence school board agrees to support city raising age to buy tobacco


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