Raising the smoking age in some parts of Shawnee County? Commissioners discuss proposal

The Shawnee County Commission on Thursday heard the first reading of a proposal to raise the tobacco purchase age in unincorporated areas from 18 to 21. (File photo)

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows three-quarters of adults in the United States favor raising the minimum tobacco purchase age to 21, a Shawnee County health department employee told county commissioners Thursday.


Craig Barnes, the department’s health promotions coordinator, encouraged commissioners to approve a proposal they’ll consider next week that would ban the sale or furnishing of tobacco products to anyone under 21 in the county’s unincorporated areas.

But local resident Tom Palace, executive director of the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association of Kansas, told commissioners the proposed resolution would be difficult to enforce.

“Statistics are one thing, practicality is another,” he said. “I don’t know how practical this really is.”

Palace and Barnes appeared before Commissioners Bob Archer, Kevin Cook and Shelly Buhler as they heard the first reading of Archer’s proposal to ban the sale or furnishing of cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, tobacco products or liquid nicotine to anyone under 21 in the unincorporated areas.

The proposal would snuff out the ability to legally provide such products to people ages 18 to 20.

It wouldn’t specifically ban possession by those who are underage.

The measure would hold retailers responsible for violations committed by their employees. Violators would be subject to a $200 fine.

Commissioners accepted public comments and heard the proposal’s first reading Thursday. They plan to hear further comment and consider it for action next Thursday.

Shawnee County has no resolutions regulating tobacco acquisition by age but enforces Kansas statute 33-7799, which bans the public from selling or furnishing tobacco products to anyone under 18.

Commissioners were told earlier this year that they have the authority to raise the minimum tobacco purchase age only in the county’s unincorporated areas, where 11 convenience stores are located.

Imposing such a restriction in Shawnee County’s five incorporated areas — the cities of Topeka, Auburn, Rossville, Silver Lake and Willard — would require the approval of their governing bodies, county health officer Gianfranco Pezzino told the commission in June.

Johnson and Wyandotte counties already have banned the sale or furnishing of tobacco products in their unincorporated areas to anyone under 21, according to a July 27 memorandum commissioners received from county counselor Jim Crowl and assistant county counselor Jonathan Brzon.

Such a ban also has been adopted by the Kansas cities of Olathe, Prairie Village, Iola, Bonner Springs, Westwood Hills, Lenexa, Lansing, Overland Park, Mission Hills, Westwood, Leavenworth, Roeland Park, Leawood, Merriam and Garden City, the memo said.

Commissioners heard testimony in favor of Archer’s proposal Thursday from Barnes and Pezzino, who said its approval would be a “small but important step” to promote public health by discouraging tobacco use among young people.

The proposal is aimed not only at keeping tobacco away from people ages 18 to 20 but also at keeping them away from younger youths, who most commonly acquire tobacco products from their older friends, Pezzino said.

Commissioners next heard from Palace, who raised questions about the proposal’s enforcement.

“It’s just very convoluted as to how this and the current state law would dovetail together,” he said.

Palace applauded commissioners for seeking to improve public health but stressed that 18-year-olds are adults who can buy a house, buy a car and go to war for their country.

“The government’s trying to protect us from ourselves, and I personally think that’s wrong,” he said.

Commissioners subsequently heard from Sheriff Herman Jones, who said his officers — when they suspect someone under 18 possesses tobacco — make contact with that person and identify him or her.

Jones said his officers don’t encounter those types of situations very often.

Contact reporter Tim Hrenchir at (785) 295-1184 or @timhrenchir on Twitter.

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