Northeast Joco

Prairie Village looks at raising age for tobacco purchases

The city of Prairie Village is looking to add its name to the list of Kansas City-area communities that have raised the age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21.

At its regular meeting Tuesday, the City Council asked the city’s legal staff to develop an ordinance similar to a model proposed by Tobacco 21, a campaign seeking to get the age limit for tobacco products and electronic cigarettes raised in cities across the country to 21. Already Kansas City, Independence, Olathe, Gladstone and Kansas City, Kan., have raised the tobacco purchase age within their borders.

A final vote on the new ordinance could come as soon as next month.

The majority of the council expressed support for the ordinance.

“I’m supportive of being a leader in this effort,” said Mayor Laura Wassmer. “I think many other cities will follow in our footsteps.”

Councilman Ted Odell added, “Personally, I don’t really see a negative to pushing this.”

During a presentation on Tobacco 21, Jessica Hembree, program officer for the Health Care Foundation of Kansas City, and Scott Hall, vice president for strategic initiatives with the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, said the change would not criminalize possession or use of tobacco.

Instead, focusing on the sale to those under 21 was aimed at preventing the development of a lifelong habit, noting that statistics showed that 95 percent of current smokers said they started smoking before they turned 21.

“The brain is still developing until late into the 20s, around 25, and during that time of brain development, the youth brain is particularly susceptible to addiction, susceptible to peer pressure and sensation-seeking behaviors, and all of these combine into what I call a perfect storm for nicotine addiction,” Hembree said, adding that older teens can also influence younger children.

Hall said businesses that sell tobacco products shouldn’t worry that the change could significantly affect sales, saying one study estimated limiting sales to people 21 and over would decrease annual tobacco sales by 2 percent. Meanwhile, he said health care problems and lost productivity tied to tobacco use cost private employers an average of $5,816 per worker per year.

“We recognize that in the 21st century, health is going to determine economic growth and the economic vitality of our community,” Hall said.

The ordinance proposed by Tobacco 21 would fine retailers who sell tobacco to underage consumers no less than $300 for the first offense, no less than $600 for the second offense and no less than $1,000 for each violation after that. They could also have their license suspended or revoked.

Nationwide, 123 cities in eight states have enacted Tobacco 21 ordinances.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to adopt the Johnson County Park & Recreation District’s master plan for developing the approximately 80-acre Meadowbrook Park.

The project, part of the overall redevelopment of the former Meadowbrook Golf and Country Club, will include a mix of large multi-use lawns, playgrounds, landscaped ponds and more than four miles of hiking and biking trails. Park district officials estimate the park will cost $17.6 million to complete over a decade or more with about half the cost covered by proposed tax-increment financing and the district’s own capital budget. The district has not yet identified how to pay for the remaining $8.8 million is costs

Kelly VanElders, a landscape architect with Landworks Studio, which consulted with the park district, said a park access road connecting Roe Avenue and Nall Avenue through the park and a proposed playground near the Roe entrance had been moved slightly west in the plans to get farther away from existing homes.

Cliff Middleton, planning and development manager for the district, said he hoped the park would be open by 2018.

David Twiddy: