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Newton Raises Legal Age To Buy Tobacco Products

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Starting next year, you'll have to be at least 21 years old to buy tobacco products in the city of Newton.

Newton is the latest city in Kansas to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Starting Jan. 1, retailers in Newton won’t be allowed to sell cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco or other tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.

“It’s all about protecting the youth, and I think that extending these three years will really have a huge part in that,” says Benjamin Meier, a coordinator with the nonprofit substance abuse prevention and treatment program Mirror Inc.

Mirror is part of a coalition of health groups and high school students that launched a "Tobacco 21" campaign a few months ago and pushed for the change. Newton’s city commission approved the ordinance at a meeting Tuesday evening.

Meier says high school students involved with Mirror’s STAND program see underage tobacco use — especially vaping — every day and wanted to do something about it.

He says extending the legal sales age will help reduce young people’s access to tobacco.

“Through research, we’ve discovered that the majority of those who are under age who are getting tobacco products are getting them from 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds,” Meier says.

Newton Medical Center President and CEO Val Gleason was also involved with the campaign. She says she’s pleased the city took action because her staff often sees the harmful effects of tobacco use.

"We can do many things to improve the health outcomes when they’re patients in our hospital," she says. "But the single factor of tobacco beats us every time."

Gleason says Newton’s ordinance is evidence-based and can be used as a model throughout Kansas.

At least two dozen Kansas cities have adopted Tobacco 21 policies.

Beginning next year, tobacco retailers in Newton will be required to obtain an annual license for each sales location, with an annual fee of $400. A city spokeswoman says the fee is designed to offset the city’s costs of administering the ordinance and conducting compliance checks.

Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.