By Holly Cook
A proposal to raise the age limit for the sale and purchase of tobacco and vaping products to 21 in Roeland Park gained momentum Monday after the city council approved to have an ordinance drafted for future discussion. The ordinance would not make it illegal for residents under the age of 21 to use or be in possession of tobacco products.
Scott Hall, vice president for Strategic Initiatives for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, said 19 of Roeland Park’s neighboring communities have already adopted age restriction ordinances. The effort is being promoted by the advocacy group Tobacco 21.
“The momentum has been astounding,” Hall said.
Prairie Village, Leawood, Mission Woods and Overland Park are among those who have passed the measure. Fairway and Gardner have rejected it.
Councilors Erin Thompson, Michael Poppa and Teresa Kelly spoke in favor of the ordinance.
“I think it’s important for our youngsters and for our schools,” Thompson said. “I don’t think we want to be the outlier where others are coming in to get their cigarettes.”
Poppa, a former smoker who started using tobacco at a very young age said tobacco was a “highly addictive drug” that has “devastating effects.”
Councilor Sheri McNeil opposed the ordinance and said she considered 18-year-olds to be adults who should be able to make their own decisions.
“I see it as another layer of government interference in personal lives and personal choices,” McNeil said. “I really have a problem with trying to rule people’s lives.”
Roeland Park resident Tom Madigan spoke in opposition to the ordinance as well.
“If you can give your life for your country you ought to be able to smoke,” Madigan said. “To me this is nothing more than a feel good ordinance.”
Tobacco 21 proponents said that 10 percent of Kansas youth smoke on a regular basis and that Kansas has earned an “F” from the American Lung Association for its tobacco prevention efforts.
Bridget McCandless, CEO of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and a Tobacco 21 advocate, said she hoped the age regulation would eventually be passed as state-wide law.
“Sometimes great things start at the local level,” McCandless said.