Olathe has become the first city in Johnson County to raise the purchase age of tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Olathe follows in the footsteps of Kansas City, the United Government of Wyandotte County and Independence as part of Tobacco 21|KC, a campaign launched last fall to get every municipality in the metro area to raise its legal age for buying tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21, the same as it is for alcohol.
At the Olathe City Council meeting Tuesday evening, the council voted 6-1 to change the city’s ordinance, which will go into effect today.
Councilman John Bacon cast the dissenting vote.
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Many council members expressed support for the amendment, saying they think it will create a healthier community.
“Many of you don’t know I’m a nurse practitioner,” said Councilwoman Marge Vogt. “I’ve never had a patient tell me they’re glad they smoke. The truth is, they’re struggling. There’s great value in prevention.”
Councilman Jim Randall agreed. He hopes the move will greatly benefit the young people of Olathe.
“Teenage brains are much more susceptible to addiction,” he said.
At the public hearing on the issue, around a dozen residents spoke up in support of the Tobacco 21 initiative.
Roy Jenson, director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center, told the council that cancer is now the leading cause of death in the state of Kansas, surpassing heart disease.
He noted that between now and 2030, there will be an increase in cancer-related deaths by 45 percent if nothing is done.
“Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the state and in the country,” he told the council. “We consider it important to not just treat this disease but do everything we can to limit its impact.”
Lisa Cox, an associate professor for the Preventative Medicine and Public Health department at the University of Kansas, told the council that preventing high school seniors from being able to purchase tobacco had the potential of significantly reducing tobacco exposure to high school and middle school students.
“Addiction begins in the first few puffs of a cigarette,” she said. “Those young brains are at high risk for addiction and if we can close that door to young people, that would be wonderful.”
Olathe resident Michelle Reeves gave an emotional plea to the council, revealing how a former cigarette addiction has been causing her physical strife.
“Since I quit smoking, I’ve saved $9,000 and I smell good,” said Reeves, who started smoking at age 13. “But the bad news is, now I’m sick. I have a persistent cough and I’m scared about what the doctor is going to tell me. Just because that magic number (18) comes up, let’s not stop raising our kids.”
Currently, the state of Hawaii and 118 cities in nine other states have adopted legislation raising the purchase age of tobacco products to 21.
The Institute of Medicine conducted a study in March 2015 that estimated that raising the age of purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21 would reduce smoking among 15 to 17 year olds by 25 percent and among 18 to 21 year olds by 15 percent.
Similarly, the United States surgeon general recently recommended prevention efforts should be focused on young adults, since 90 percent of smokers start smoking by age 18.