Kansas City, Missouri, City Council committee advances a measure to raise legal age for buying tobacco and vaping products to 21

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Smoke ’em if you got ’em, 18- to 20-year-olds — it looks like you won’t be able to buy cigarettes in Kansas City, Missouri, soon.

The Kansas City Neighborhoods and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday recommended approval of an ordinance that raises the legal age for buying tobacco and vaping products in Kansas City from 18 to 21. It’s likely that the full Kansas City, Missouri, City Council will approve the ordinance Thursday when it votes on the matter.

Policymakers cited the health risks and costs associated with smoking as reasons to make it harder for youngsters to get hooked early on.

“Whether you’re a smoker or a nonsmoker, we’re all paying for those health-care costs,” said Scott Taylor, a 6th District at-large Kansas City councilman.

Most who attended Wednesday’s meeting testified in favor the ordinance. 

“We see that tobacco use among young people turns into tobacco among employees,” said Jim Heeter, president of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, which has been coordinating the effort to get the various municipalities across the metro area on board with increasing the legal age for buying tobacco.

Bill Diebel, whose family runs Diebel’s Sportsmens Gallery on the Plaza, sought an exemption for cigars in the ordinance, arguing that it’s not the same type of product as cigarettes. Diebel’s sells high-end cigars.

“All of the research is cigarettes,” Diebel said. “Once in a while, there may be a comment about cigars.”

While it’s true that incidents of lung cancer is lower among cigar smokers compared with those who enjoy cigarettes, there’s still an increased pattern of other types of cancer among cigar smokers than those who don’t smoke at all.

Diebel’s arguments didn’t sway the committee.

Missing from that meeting was Kansas City Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, who said during a Tuesday council work session that she probably won’t support the ordinance on the account that if 18-year-olds can go fight wars, then they should be able to choose whether they smoke. 

But it appears that Shields will be in the minority on Thursday’s vote. There are eight sponsors on the smoking ordinance, giving the measure enough apparent support to pass.

An earlier version of the ordinance included a $100 fine for people under 21 caught possessing tobacco products, but that provision was removed to secure the support of other council members.

The Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, is expected to vote on a similar ordinance at its Thursday meeting. UG’s Mayor Mark Holland supports the measure.

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