A divided Shawnee County Commission on Thursday snuffed out the ability for people ages 18 to 20 to legally buy tobacco in the county’s unincorporated areas.
Commissioners voted 2-1 to ban the sale or furnishing of cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, tobacco products or liquid nicotine to anyone under 21 in those areas.
Commissioners Bob Archer and Shelly Buhler voted in the majority, while Commissioner Kevin Cook dissented.
“I’m a public health advocate, and I do support this,” Buhler said.
Archer said that if commissioners hadn’t approved the measure, they wouldn’t have been doing their jobs.
Cook said he thought the proposal involved a “worthwhile endeavor,” but wasn’t willing to support it.
The measure approved Thursday can be found on Page 6 of the agenda packet for that meeting. It doesn’t ban possession of tobacco products by those who are younger than 21.
The resolution holds retailers responsible for violations committed by their employees, with violators being subject to a $200 fine. It takes effect 30 days after being published in the official county newspaper, which is The Topeka Capital-Journal.
Shawnee County previously had no resolutions regulating tobacco acquisition by age as it enforced Kansas statute 33-7799, which bans the public from selling or furnishing tobacco products to anyone younger than 18.
Commissioners listened to comments from three people while hearing the proposal’s first reading last week. One of last week’s speakers — Tom Palace, executive director of the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association — became the first of four people who addressed the issue Thursday in commission chambers.
Palace described 18-year-olds as being adults who can legally vote, serve in the military, kill and die for their country, enter into and be bound by contracts, get married, buy a gun, refuse medical treatment, play the lottery, be tried as an adult for criminal actions and win election to the Shawnee County Commission.
Surely, he said, those adults should be allowed to decide if they want to use tobacco and e-cigarette products.
Erin Gabert, Overland Park-based senior community health director for the American Heart Association, suggested comparing laws regarding tobacco not to the activities Palace described — which she said for the most part contribute to society — but instead to laws regarding other “highly addictive” activities such as alcohol consumption and gambling, for which the minimum age is 21.
“Do the right thing for the youth of Shawnee County and join the Kansas counties and cities adopting these ordinances,” Gabert said.
County counselor Jim Crowl’s office told commissioners in a July 27 memo that measures raising the age from 18 to 21 had been adopted by the Kansas counties of Johnson and Wyandotte and 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.
Bob Alderson, an attorney representing Casey’s General Stores, Inc., contended Thursday that county commissioners lacked the legal authority to take the step. Crowl had told commissioners they’d be on firm legal ground in making that move.
Interim Shawnee County health department director Linda Ochs also spoke Thursday in favor of the measure. She told commissioners she would ask officials in the county’s five incorporated areas to also raise the minimum purchase age from 18 to 21.
County commissioners have the authority to raise that age only in the county’s unincorporated areas, where 11 convenience stores are located. Imposing such a restriction in the cities of Topeka, Auburn, Rossville, Silver Lake and Willard would require the approval of their governing bodies.
Contact reporter Tim Hrenchir at (785) 295-1184 or @timhrenchir on Twitter.