The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday ruled that local governments could institute ordinances that ban the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products to people under 21, known as Tobacco 21 legislation.
“It’s really exciting because the Supreme Court clearly indicated that in an instance of local efforts to control tobacco, that home rule really does apply and does not conflict with state legislation,” said Vicki Collie-Akers, chair of the LiveWell Douglas County Tobacco-Free Living Workgroup. “It verifies with us that there is an opportunity for us at a local level to pursue policies that can address tobacco and prevention control among our youth.”
The Supreme Court ruling involved a legal challenge to the Tobacco 21 ordinance the City of Topeka adopted in 2017. Douglas County Commissioners in 2018 adopted a Tobacco 21 ordinance, and cities in Douglas County have studied the policy though they had indicated waiting on resolution of the Supreme Court case before proceeding. The court heard arguments in the Topeka case during a special session April 1 at the Lied Center of Kansas in Lawrence, and members of the Lawrence chapter of the Resist coalition attended and spoke with justices after the hearing.
According to Sarah Hartsig, Health Promotion Specialist for the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, adolescence is a critical time to intervene when it comes to tobacco and addiction.
“We’re really trying to make sure young people don’t get hooked on nicotine early and they have the chance for their brain to mature and make better decisions when they’re older,” she said. “Tobacco use is really harmful for teenagers because the part of their brain involved with decision making is still developing and it’s especially susceptible to the effects of nicotine. Students who start using nicotine at earlier ages are more vulnerable to addictions later in life.”
Public health advocates, including with the Health Department and LiveWell Douglas County, have pointed to Tobacco 21 policies as a key measure to help address tobacco-use, including the use of vaping and e-cigarettes, among youth, especially because 18-year-old teenagers could easily supply tobacco to those younger. Data show that the issue of students vaping and e-cigarettes has become particularly problematic in recent years, but Tobacco 21 laws can help curb the epidemic.
• As of 2017, nearly 1 in 5 Kansas high school students use some type of tobacco product (cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vaping, chewing tobacco).
• Nationally, e-cigarette use rose 78% from 11.5% in 2017 to 20.8% in 2018.
• 90 percent of lifelong tobacco users initiate tobacco use before age 21.
• Communities that passed Tobacco 21 policies have documented decreases in youth smoking rates by 50 percent.
• 23 cities and counties in Kansas have already passed Tobacco 21.
“Tobacco 21 is such a promising approach,” Collie-Akers said. “By interrupting the supply chain, you delay that age of initiation and decrease the chances a kid will become a lifelong tobacco user. Data from other communities suggests this works – that it has an impact on reducing smoking. Being able to implement something that has credible evidence of impact is an important part of public health.”
Collie-Akers, who helps lead the Academic Health Department partnership among the Lawrence-Douglas county Health Department and the University of Kansas, and Health Promotion Specialist Sarah Hartsig said they hoped any potential future local Tobacco 21 legislation would also address the sale of e-cigarettes and vaping as well.
You can watch this video on preventing vaping among youth in Douglas County.