Mission councilmembers split on proposed Tobacco 21 ordinance

Councilmember Hillary Parker Thomas is among the sponsors of the measure in Mission.

Mission councilmembers were split on the idea of adopting a Tobacco 21 ordinance in the city.

The ordinance, similar to those adopted in other NEJC cities, would raise the age to purchase tobacco products and e-cigarettes in Mission from 18 to 21. Possession and consumption of tobacco products and e-cigarettes, however would remain legal under the ordinance.

Councilmembers Ken Davis and Hillary Parker Thomas, who introduced the ordinance in a committee meeting Wednesday, said Mission is behind several other northeast Johnson County cities — the first being Prairie Village in March 2016 — that adopted the ordinance over the past few years.

Thomas and Davis invited multiple speakers to share the benefits of raising the legal purchasing age to 21. For instance, teen smoking rates have been reduced by an average of 25 percent in the cities that have passed Tobacco 21, said Scott Hall with the Greater KC Chamber of Commerce.

Concern for legal purchasing rights of adults

Mission Tobacco 21
Mission councilmember Nick Schlossmacher was concerned with Tobacco 21 stomping on adults’ legal purchasing rights.

Councilmembers Nick Schlossmacher and Pat Quinn were opposed to the ordinance because it restricts legal adults from deciding what to consume. They added that tobacco use and purchase is already illegal for high schoolers 17 and younger.

“Without a whole lot behind it, there are more effective ways that have been proven to actually cut down on smoking use, especially amongst youth,” Schlossmacher said, suggesting that he prefers education and taxation over restriction by government. “I’m not debating that tobacco has huge public health impacts; it’s the precedent it sets when government says, ‘We know better than you.’ I think it’s a really dangerous way to go when you’re setting policy.”

Some councilmembers, including Arcie Rothrock and Debbie Kring, think the ordinance doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head. Kring think it isn’t directly tackling the issue of teen addiction. Rothrock has concerns with certain components of the ordinance, such as the legal gap for buyers to purchase online.

After devoting more than an hour to presentations, public comment and discussion, Mission councilmembers unanimously decided to conduct a work session specifically for continued discussion of the Tobacco 21 ordinance.

Half of the council (Schlossmacher, Kristin Inman, Rothrock and Quinn) wanted the work session to take place after the Kansas Supreme Court makes its decision Topeka’s legal authority to enforce its Tobacco 21 ordinance. The other half of the council (Davis, Sollie Flora, Thomas and Kring) wanted to move forward without waiting for the Kansas Supreme Court to form its position on the case.

Ultimately, Mission councilmembers compromised by agreeing to have the Tobacco 21 ordinance work session late in the first quarter of the year. A date has not been set yet.

The Tobacco 21 ordinance was introduced in committee in December 2015; Mission councilmembers at that time decided not to take action, said city administrator Laura Smith. The council has not considered the ordinance since then, until this week.

Thomas and Davis asked multiple people to present their perspectives and research on behalf of the ordinance and its benefits. These people include Hall; Delwyn Catley with the Center for Children’s Healthy Lifestyles and Nutrition at Children’s Mercy Hospital; John McKinney, director of family services for the Shawnee Mission School District; Nicole Brown with the Johnson County Health Department; and Tracy Russell with the American Heart Association; as well as Carolyn Popper and Elizabeth Ballew, student-journalists from The Harbinger at Shawnee Mission East High School.

Mission Tobacco 21
Carolyn Popper and Elizabeth Ballew, SME student-journalists with The Harbinger

Other speakers showed that e-cigarette use is prevalent in the Shawnee Mission School District.

Popper and Ballew told the council about The Harbinger staff writers’ coverage on the use of Juul, a brand of e-cigarette that is particularly appealing to teens. They found out that about 63 percent of SME students had tried it; administrators these days confiscate about an average one Juul per day.

Thomas said it’s troubling to her “that Mission isn’t willing to be a leader on this.”

“We weren’t able to be a leader on this three years ago, and here we are having an opportunity to be one of the final cities to get this in, I don’t want to be the last,” she said. “As a mom, I want to know my city leaders, myself included, are doing everything possible. This is a decision that makes me think I don’t know if I went to send my daughter to Shawnee Mission schools.”

McKinney reiterated the Shawnee Mission School District’s supportive position to raise the legal purchasing age to 21.

Catley said raising the purchasing age to 21 will hopefully deter vendors from marketing and advertising toward a younger target market — teenagers. He cited research that shows adolescents are more susceptible to addiction. Teens would hopefully have a more difficult time accessing products from their 18-year-old peers who would no longer be able to legally purchase them, he added.