A group of influential Johnson County mayors may soon be willing to advance the passage of laws that would raise the age to purchase cigarettes and related products to 21, from 18.
Good for them.
The research is clear. If you can nip smoking early, there is far less likelihood young people will take up smoking as adults. Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan., each recently passed such a law, and they have now taken effect.
This is a big step forward, with appropriate accolades to the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, which led the way. This entire metropolitan area could lead the way for the United States if all of the communities in our region would adopt similar laws. We would become the second largest metropolitan area in the country to initiate this age restriction.
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The Johnson County mayors, who initially were reluctant to jump on the bandwagon, pointed out some issues having to do with inconsistencies on the other side of the state line.
And they are right to air their views, even as they move forward on passing such laws. Kansas City and the state of Missouri have been somewhat neurotic about tobacco use.
While Kansas City has displayed courage in banning tobacco purchases for those under age 21, the track record on public smoking is not as courageous. In 2004, the Kansas City Council passed a strings-attached smoking ban that would take effect only after 85 percent of the metropolitan area population passed a similar ban.
With no strings attached, two years later, Overland Park, the largest city in Johnson County, passed the area’s first comprehensive ban on smoking in all enclosed public places and businesses. This was quite progressive and courageous, given the outcry of business owners, particularly owners of restaurants and bars, who claimed they would lose business.
Other suburban communities in Johnson County soon followed with similarly comprehensive bans. Kansas passed a statewide ban in 2010.
Kansas City finally passed its own ban — this time without caveats — in 2008.
Well, wait a minute.
Kansas City, which has displayed courage by leading the way on raising the age limit to buy cigarettes, has dropped the ball on this smoking ban. Kansas City exempted casinos from smoke-free laws, and Johnson County mayors find that inconsistency troublesome. (State-owned casinos in Kansas are also exempt from smoking bans, and no local jurisdiction can override that.)
As they say in the movie reviews, thumbs down. Casino patrons should not have to inhale poison in the air. There should be no exceptions to smoke-free rules in public places.
Which brings us to Missouri and its pathetic message regarding tobacco use. Missouri has no statewide ban on smoking. Furthermore, it has the lowest tobacco tax in the country. At 17 cents a pack, that amount pales in comparison to Kansas, where the cigarette tax was recently increased to $1.22 a pack.
Missouri seems to be doing all it can to encourage smoking. And that is shameful. The American Lung Association gives Missouri an F grade.
Kansas City does not control the state. But its leaders can play a role in the petition efforts to put a higher cigarette tax on the ballot in 2016. The chamber of commerce can also take the lead.
I’m not a big fan of laws created through petitions versus by representative government. But petitions are legal in Missouri. This would be a worthwhile ballot issue. Several petition efforts in Missouri to increase the cigarette tax are already underway.
Only 17.8 percent of Americans smoke, as of 2013. And there are strong indications the rate has dropped since then.
This metropolitan area can do its part to bring that number closer to zero, with a broad-based, bistate effort. We may be already on the way.
Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org