11 speak in favor, 1 against banning tobacco sales to adults ages 18 to 20 in Topeka

The Topeka City Council heard comments Tuesday night regarding a proposal to ban the sale or furnishing of tobacco-related products to adults ages 18 through 20. (File photo/The Associated Press)

Eleven people, including various health professionals and Shawnee County Commission chairman Bob Archer, urged Topeka’s governing body late Tuesday to ban the sale of tobacco-related products in the city to adults ages 18 through 20.

 

“There’s no downside to it,” Archer said of the proposed move. “There’s just upside. It will stop kids from smoking.”

The governing body also heard one person — Spencer Duncan, who ran unsuccessfully Nov. 7 for Topeka mayor — speak against the proposal, saying the Kansas Vapers Association will file a legal challenge against the city if it passes it.

The KVA promotes the use of electronic cigarettes, also known as “vaping.”

Appearing in his capacity as the KVA’s government affairs director, Duncan said Kansas law doesn’t allow municipalities to pass laws restricting the sale of tobacco products. He acknowledged some disagree with that.

City manager Brent Trout said the governing body, consisting of the nine council members and Mayor Larry Wolgast, is tentatively set Dec. 5 to consider banning the sale or furnishing of cigarettes and other tobacco-related products, including electronic cigarettes, to anyone younger than 21. The current minimum age here to buy tobacco products is 18.

The proposal involved is sponsored by Councilwoman Elaine Schwartz, who said she literally shouldn’t have been present at Tuesday’s meeting because her cardiologist had wanted her to have heart surgery the previous day. Schwartz said she suffers from heart problems brought on by 33 years of smoking.

Schwartz’s proposal comes before the governing body after Shawnee County commissioners voted 2-1 on Aug. 10 to approve Archer’s proposal to ban the sale or furnishing of cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, tobacco products and liquid nicotine to anyone younger than 21 in the county’s unincorporated areas.

Those speaking Tuesday in favor of Schwartz’s proposal stressed that most smokers start using cigarettes while still in their teens. One said Shawnee County’s higher-than-average percentage of smokers — 22 percent, compared to 18 percent statewide and 17 percent nationwide — has harmed its health ranking among Kansas counties.

The governing body also heard two people ask that it provide the Topeka Youth Project some of the 2018 special alcohol grant funding the city earmarks annually for drug and alcohol prevention and recovery programs in amounts recommended by the Topeka-Shawnee County Alcohol and Drug Advisory Council.

The advisory council recommended providing no money next year to some organizations, including the TYP, which its executive director, Georgianna Wong, said has received some of the funding for each of the past 10 to 15 years.

Council members were told the city is expected to have about $535,000 available for the program next year, compared to about $620,000 this year.

Councilwoman Karen Hiller stressed that the city has had “extra money” available for the program the past couple of years, but now that extra money is gone.

The governing body took no action Tuesday regarding the special alcohol grant funding, which it is expected to finalize later

In other business, governing body members:

Voted 10-0 to allocate $137,890 in Community Development Block Grant funding — in amounts recommended by the city’s neighborhood empowerment grant committee — to eight specific projects in areas covered by the North Topeka West, Ward Meade, Central Park and Chesney Park Neighborhood Improvement associations.

Heard an update from Visit Topeka Inc., which works to promote Topeka as a tourism destination, given by Brett Oetting, its president and chief executive officer.

Voted 9-0, with Wolgast not being able to vote, to approve the appointment of Ivan Weichert to the Citizens Advisory Council for a term ending Nov. 22, 2020.

Heard a presentation from Whitney Damron, the city’s lobbyist, about issues he thinks the city should monitor or work to address during next year’s session of the Kansas Legislature.

Met behind closed doors in executive decision to discuss attorney-client privileged matters involving potential litigation with the city’s legal counsel.

Reporter Tim Hrenchir can be reached at (785) 295-1184 or @timhrenchir on Twitter.

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