Editorial: Kansas court must address Topeka tobacco measure

State law clearly allows purchases beginning with age 18

Smoking tobacco is an addictive, destructive habit proven to cause lung diseases, including most cases of lung cancer.

 

That much is condensed into a warning from the surgeon general on every pack of cigarettes, and even other forms of tobacco.

The difficulty involved in quitting intensifies a craving for nicotine, while the habit can also become a psychological crutch. In addition, taxes on tobacco products have made the addiction increasingly costly over time.

Consider this then to be another warning: Don’t smoke.

With that stipulated, however, a temporary restraining order issued last week by a Shawnee County judge to block a Topeka ordinance that forbids tobacco sales to people aged 18-20 was appropriate.

In December, the Topeka City Council approved a measure barring people under 21 from purchasing tobacco products. The measure, called Tobacco 21 for its age restriction, directly counters a state law, which allows businesses to sell tobacco products to those 18 and older.

Challenging the legal age requirements, though commendable for its intent, would appear to be an overreach by the City Council considering that state law sets the age requirement at 18.

A lawsuit filed by two Topeka businesses argues that the ordinance hinders the sale of a legal product to those of legal age. There is really no way that can be disputed.

“We are simply saying this discussion must be done at the state level and, under state law, is not within the rights of local government to determine,’’ said Spencer Duncan, government affairs director for the Kansas Vapers Association.

Interestingly, KVA represents businesses involved in the sale of e-cigarettes, which have been found not to include the majority of toxins found in tobacco smoke.

A hearing on the temporary injunction is scheduled Feb. 1. Until the injunction is resolved, the ordinance will not be enforced.

Former city councilwoman Elaine Schwartz advocated for the ordinance, which was passed 8-2 by the City Council. Schwartz pushed for the measure after she said she was diagnosed with a heart condition related to here smoking for 33 years.

Her intentions, and those of council members who supported the ordinance, were well-founded.

The best move, though, is for state lawmakers to consider such a resolution so the age restriction would be imposed statewide. That could include debate over the merits of e-cigarettes.

As it is, the state law allowing tobacco sales to those 18 and older seems clear, though the courts must still decide on the injunction in question.

 

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