The Shawnee city council has directed city staff to draft a Tobacco 21 ordinance that would raise the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Shawnee is one of the last cities in northeast Johnson County not to have passed a Tobacco 21 ordinance. Proponents and opponents alike noted that as a result, Shawnee has become a safe haven for tobacco and vape users between the age of 18 and 21 and the businesses that cater to this age group.
The city council considered the item in its committee meeting Tuesday, during which many people spoke mostly in favor of the ordinance.
Those in support cited the health benefits and economic advantage of Tobacco 21 for the community. Those in opposition said Tobacco 21 targets a specific age group — legal adults between age 18 and 21 — and argued that the ordinance doesn’t offer a solution to the spike in vape products by minors in school.
Over the summer, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that cities can pass Tobacco 21 laws under their Home Rule Authority. To date, 31 local governments have passed Tobacco 21 laws across the metropolitan area, including several in northeast Johnson County: Overland Park, Olathe, Lenexa, Leawood, Prairie Village, Merriam, Roeland Park, Mission Hills, Westwood and Westwood Hills, as well as unincorporated Johnson County.
The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce shared its support of passage of Tobacco 21 ordinances because of the economic impact of caring for health issues caused by tobacco use. Scott Hall, senior vice president, said the average annual cost for private employers is $5,816 due to absenteeism, smoke breaks and excess health care costs.
Hall added that they hope to prevent teens from using tobacco, noting that 95% of current smokers started before they were 21. If teens haven’t started using tobacco products in their youth, then they are less likely to do so, he said.
The spike in use of vape products and e-cigarettes, especially JUUL devices, in high schools has caused the most concern. Local school districts have filed lawsuits against JUUL because of those concerns.
A few high school students at Mill Valley and Shawnee Mission West also spoke in favor of the ordinance.
“Coming from a student who lives in a nearby city of Shawnee and the area of Johnson County, I think it would be in the best interest of all the young people in the Johnson County area that you raise the age of selling tobacco from 18 to 21 because… it’ll protect our health,” said Hannah Silverstein, a senior at SM West and member of a teen task force in Johnson County that addresses mental health and tobacco use among youth.
Several councilmembers spoke in favor of Tobacco 21, and ultimately voted 6-1 to direct city staff to draft an ordinance for consideration in the future.
“I feel that if we can pass an ordinance that helps keep more of our children safe, helps their brains to develop in the right ways, helps them to learn better in school,” said Councilmember Lindsey Constance, “I feel that it’s my job as a councilmember representing children and adults in the city of Shawnee, I need to make the choice to pass Tobacco 21.”
Citing the addictive nature of gambling and alcohol, other councilmembers compared Tobacco 21 to laws prohibiting people younger than 21 to gamble and drink.
Councilmember Eric Jenkins, who cast the dissenting vote, was against the Tobacco 21 ordinance because he believes adults ages 18-21 have “basic human rights” to make their own decisions about their health and tobacco use.
“I’m just trying to look at it from a practical standpoint,” Jenkins said. “Really, to go out and regulate a specific group of people and deprive them of their rights seems inherently unfair and inequitable in the system we live in, in a democratic society.”
Several people gave their thoughts about the Tobacco 21 ordinance: Some in support, some in opposition, others who believe the focus should be on prevention efforts in schools and increasing punishment for adults giving drugs to minors. Some parents defended the schools, saying that teachers and staff are doing their best but they can’t have their eyes everywhere.
“This isn’t going to solve the problem, 1,000%, but it’s definitely going to make it harder for these things to be available to these kids,” said one parent of a Mill Valley student. “I just beg that you consider this and consider the lives and the futures of our children and their health and the future of our society.”
Emmitt Monslow, owner of Layali Hookah at 10909 Shawnee Mission Parkway, said he opposed the Tobacco 21 ordinance because it would hurt his business, which caters to the age 18-21 market.
“I get people from all over to enjoy a relaxing environment and a tobacco product that is more socially used,” Monslow said, adding that the issue should be more about getting dangerous drugs off the street, especially because they affect youth younger than 18. “We’re not going to stop it. There are things that you cannot prevent. All they’re going to do is punish adults.”
In an interview after the meeting, Monslow said he believes passage of Tobacco 21 will shut his business down.
Jamie Borgman, newly elected member of the Shawnee Mission School Board and a Shawnee resident, shared her support for the ordinance, saying she supports “the greater good” for her community.
“I work for an oncology company that specializes in treating metastatic lung cancer patients,” Borgman said. “Today, right now, there are countless metastatic lung cancer patients fighting to live to see Christmas. I invite you, come to work with me tomorrow, any of you, and you can hear directly from patients hanging on to dear life as a direct result of their nicotine addiction.
“The quicker you take action, the quicker you can prevent harmful and deadly toxins from entering a child’s body.”
Shawnee plans to regulate location of future vape stores
The council also directed city staff to prepare an ordinance that regulates the locations of vape stores in the city.
Last year, after city councilmembers raised concerns about clusters of vape stores in the eastern part of the city, Shawnee passed — and later extended — a moratorium on vape stores to give staff time to research possible regulations for locating these types of businesses, and also to see what the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision would be on the usage of e-cigarettes by people between age 18 and 21. The moratorium is set to expire June 30, 2020.
Five vape stores are in Shawnee, generally located on Shawnee Mission Parkway between Nieman and Maurer Road.
The proposed ordinance will create a separation requirement for any new vape store that desires to locate in Shawnee; new vape stores must be at least one mile from the nearest vape store.
The ordinance also requires an additional buffer of 200 feet from a school, college, church, commercial daycare or residential property.
Vape stores already open before the ordinance will not be required to follow the new ordinance.
The council voted 7-0 to direct staff to prepare an ordinance regulating the location of future vape stores. There was no public comment on this item, and comments from the council were supportive.
Councilmember Mike Kemmling was absent.