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Shawnee County Commission Votes To Raise Age To Buy Tobacco

Sudipto Sarkar
flickr Creative Commons

The Shawnee County Commission has voted to change the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Commissioner Bob Archer said he pushed for the change because of falling county health rankings.

“If we don’t take action, we’re just not doing our jobs, in my opinion," Archer said. "This is something we can do. It’s sending a message out that we care about the health of our citizens."

The proposal passed on a 2-1 vote. Commissioner Shelly Buhler supported it, but Commissioner Kevin Cook was opposed.

The move only affects stores in the unincorporated parts of Shawnee County, which includes about a dozen retailers.

The American Heart Association’s Erin Gabert told the commission that many people first try smoking around ages 14 to 17 when they can get tobacco from 18-year-old friends. She said changing the age of tobacco sales to 21 can help stop that.

“It immediately cuts off that opportunity and breaks that social chain that’s putting tobacco in the hands of our children,” Gabert said.

Tom Palace, with a trade group representing convenience stores, said 18-year-olds are adults who can make choices like serving in the military and voting.

“Surely they can determine whether or not they can buy an e-cig or a tobacco product,” Palace said.

He opposed the move and said it will simply drive away sales.

“They may stop buying it in this area," Palace said. "They just change their buying habits. They buy it somewhere else."

The age to buy tobacco in Topeka and other cities in the county isn’t affected by the change. Those rules are regulated by city governments.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Radio covering health, education and politics.