On Monday, Iola City Council members will be asked to ban the sale of tobacco products to those under 21.
The proposal will be submitted by the Allen County Rural Health Initiative, a local consortium of health agencies.
The “Tobacco 21” ordinance would ban the sale of all tobacco products — cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and “vaping” products, such as e-cigarettes — to anyone under 21, even though the state’s age limit for such products is 18.
If enacted, Iola would be part of a growing trend. Kansas City, Kan., Kansas City, Mo., and Independence, Mo., all recently approved similar measures. The measure is also before leaders of Leavenworth.
“As far as rural communities, Iola would be the first,” noted Dr. Bridget McCandless, president and CEO of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, which funds several local initiatives to promote healthy living.
“We should do everything we can to prevent young people from smoking, and save lives in doing so,” reads a letter mailed to council members Monday. “Increasing the minimum legal age … to 21 will help achieve these goals.”
The proposal, it should be noted, would not make it illegal to possess tobacco for those under 21.
If successful, the group plans to propose similar measures in Humboldt, Gas and Moran — “anywhere you can buy tobacco products in Allen County,” said Bobbi Bonds, community health care educator with Thrive Allen County.
On board with the Allen County Rural Health Initiative include representatives from Thrive Allen County, Allen County Regional Hospital, Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center, the Multi-County Health Department, Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, Senior Life Solutions, Hope Unlimited and Allen County’s 911 dispatch center.
IN CONVERSATIONS with several of the players behind the request, all cite reports that note the majority of smokers become addicted before they turn 21.
Roughly 95 percent developed their smoking habit by their 21st birthday.
“That’s when brains are still developing,” McCandless said, “and smokers are most susceptible to addiction to nicotine.”
While less than half of adult smokers (46 percent) do so before they turn 18, 4 of 5 do so before they turn 21.
Additionally, Allen County’s use of tobacco exceeds state averages, Bonds said, pointing to a 2013 Centers For Disease Control behavioral risk study. Nearly 1 on 4 Allen County adults smoke (23.2 percent) compared to the 20 percent of those statewide. The same report shows Allen County has significantly more male smokeless tobacco users (nearly 28 percent) compared to the 10.4 percent statewide rate.
The Rural Health Initiative organizers also are requesting the vaping sales ban to those under 21 because those products still contain nicotine, Bonds said.
McCANDLESS said she, too, would be at Monday’s Council meeting as a sign of support for the local effort. She spoke about the recently passed ordinances in the Kansas City metro area.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” she said.
While some tobacco vendors might fret about reduced sales, the overall economic impact would be minimal, McCandless contended. She pointed to statistics that note only about 2 percent of all tobacco sales are to customers younger than 21.
McCandless conceded tobacco sales, ideally, would eventually decline years down the road as fewer adults pick up the smoking habit.
“But this would give merchants time to adjust,” McCandless said.
She urged the local backers of the higher smoking age to “take their time,” so that city officials do not feel rushed into making a decision.
McCandless said momentum is growing across the country to raise the smoking age. Hawaii has a statewide law that bans the sale of tobacco products to anybody under 21. Cities such as Boston, New York and Cleveland have done so, as well.