The Harbinger Online

21 For Tobacco

Photo by Haley Bell

Per a decision made by the Prairie Village City Council, Prairie Village began to enforce the “Tobacco 21” ordinance that raises the tobacco product purchasing age to 21 on Tuesday, March 29. The ordinance was put in place for a variety of reasons, but primarily intending to reduce the exposure of tobacco to teenagers. Although adults ages 18-20 are still legally allowed to possess and use tobacco products, dispute over the law arose between those affected.

Those under 21 are no longer able to purchase cigarettes, chewing tobacco, e-cigarette or any other tobacco product in any of Prairie Village’s eight vendors. Some East students, like senior Jack Johnson, disagree with the ordinance’s intention and its origin.

“I guess I understand why they’d do it, I just think that the city council shouldn’t be the one to make the decision on that,” Johnson said. “They don’t make [the law] for alcohol. If Prairie Village wanted to lower the alcohol age to 18, they couldn’t do that. That’s through the state.”

Johnson believes the ordinance will not only hurt the economy, but it unfairly takes away the right of 18 to 20-year-olds’ to choose what they consume. A cashier at Prairie Village’s Shell gas station, Lisa Fry, shares the same opinion.

“If you can join the military and go fight for your country – die for your country – if you want to smoke or chew, you should be able to [buy tobacco products],” Fry said.

However, Fry doesn’t see a large amount of teenagers purchasing tobacco products, leading her to believe that the business will not be affected by “Tobacco 21.”

Regardless of the potential opposition, the city council agreed with The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s ‘Healthy KC’ initiative that originally spurred the “Tobacco 21” proposal.

The city council released a statement listing evidence to support their ordinance, citing national statistics and letters of support from doctors at University of Kansas Cancer Center and the Shawnee Mission Board of Education. The statement explains that a majority of underaged tobacco-users get their products from their 18-year-old peers and that most long-term smokers start before the age of 21. The council has also determined that the ordinance will reduce overall smoking rates by 12%.

“Raising the legal drinking age to 21 has had significant public health benefits,” the statement reads. “Raising the tobacco minimum legal sale age to 21 may have similar benefits.”

Senior Bhavish Dinakar supports the argument that “Tobacco 21” serves in the interest of teenagers. He believes that “really bad decisions” result from leaving 18 to 20-year-olds with the choice to use harmful substances.

“That’s why people get killed when they’re drunk driving,” Dinakar said. “They have the right to choose that, but it can harm themselves and others.”

Prairie Village now joins 118 cities in eight states and the entire state of Hawaii in passing “Tobacco 21.” The city also has become the fourth municipality in Kansas to adopt “Tobacco 21” behind Iola, Olathe and Wyandotte County.

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