Editorial: Tobacco 21 merits support

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

The city of Lawrence should embrace the Tobacco 21 Initiative and raise the age for purchasing tobacco products in Lawrence to 21.

The Lawrence City Commission is expected to consider such a proposal on Oct. 9. The Lawrence school board voted this week to endorse the move.

Vicki Collie-Akers, chair of the LiveWell Douglas County Tobacco 21 work group and associate director of health promotion research at the University of Kansas, sought the school board’s endorsement. The measure would raise the age to buy tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes or vaping products, from 18 to 21, Collie-Akers said.

“We feel it would be a benefit to have a signed letter to the City Commission from the largest youth organization in the city with firsthand experience with the problem,” she said.

Collie-Akers said 300 municipalities around the country already have enacted similar laws. In Kansas, 21 communities have adopted Tobacco 21 laws, including Kansas City, Bonner Springs, Iola, Lenexa, Olathe, Lansing, Prairie Village and Wyandotte County.

Research indicates the longer that individuals go without trying tobacco products, the higher the likelihood they won’t use them. Nine out of 10 smokers report trying their first cigarette by age 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Raising the age to 21 is likely to reduce teens’ access to tobacco products. Denise Johnson, Lawrence school district assistant director of health and research, said passage of a Tobacco 21 initiative in Lawrence would disrupt the “social supply chain” of 18-year-olds buying tobacco products for their underage friends.

Tobacco and vaping retailers have fought the Tobacco 21 initiative. Estimates are that tobacco products account for up to 25 percent of inside store sales in convenience stores.

In March, District Judge Franklin Theis barred the city of Topeka from enforcing its Tobacco 21 ordinance. In his injunction, Theis agreed with plaintiff Vapebar and Puffs ‘N’ Stuff that the ordinance goes beyond the authority granted municipalities by the state Constitution. State law sets the legal age for tobacco products at 18. The city of Topeka has appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

While the Topeka case injects a certain amount of uncertainty into Tobacco 21 initiatives, there can be no denying the health risks associated with smoking and other tobacco products. As with alcohol and gambling, it makes sense to delay the use of such products until the age of 21. The Tobacco 21 initiative can save lives, and Lawrence should join other Kansas communities in increasing to 21 the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products in the city.


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