TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – In a historic vote of 8 to 2, the Topeka City Council is raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products in the city, to 21 years old.
The ordinance will go into effect at midnight. Multiple health organizations in the area said the decision was obvious and the health effects will be positive.
“We’re seeing smoking and tobacco use, is the leading cause of heart disease in the United States, and one of the leading causes of lung cancer and other types of cancer,” said Linda Ochs, the Director of the Shawnee County Health Department.
Today, 90 percent of all adult smokers, started smoking before the age of 21.
Och said the main impact is that it’s easier to get addicted at a young age.
“The brain is not fully developed, and so that whole addiction process gets going and gets more deeply entrenched. Cigarettes contain 7000 toxic chemicals. We know 70 of them cause cancer. So it just builds up over time so that tissue dies off over the years in your lungs.”
Ochs said as you smoke more and more years, it builds up in your lungs.
With the new passage in Topeka, 30% of the state’s population now live in areas enforcing a 21 year old age minimum to buy tobacco products. The ordinance does not change the minimum age to smoke, which stays at 18. The main goal is to combat convenient accessibility.
“In Topeka schools, 98% of the seniors are 18 by the time they graduate. So those 18 year olds, were able to buy tobacco products and supply them to their younger friends. That is the route of getting tobacco that we want to stop,” said Ochs.
The ordinance includes other products besides just cigarettes: e-cigs, liquid nicotine, and other tobacco products. Today, health experts warn us of the consequences the high number of tobacco and nicotine options have.
“The percentage of kids who smoke in Kansas, has gone down over the years. We are at about 10% now, who actually use cigarettes but we’ve kind of stagnated for a while. I think what that misses is other tobacco products that are in use, vaping an e-cigs that have come on the scene and there’s almost an attitude that that is the safer alternative, when that’s not been proven at all,” said Tracy Russell, the Government Relations Director for the American Heart Association of Kansas.
Opponents of the ordinance said they believe this law oversteps federal law but advocates say the local level is where most action has to start.
“What’s interesting, is we’re seeing local governments take the lead, because the federal government is prohibited from raising the age at this point. So you’re seeing a desire at the very community level that they want to do this, and they’re doing it,” said Russell.
Thursday on, retailers will be fined $200 by law enforcement if they don’t comply.