Overland Park & Leawood

Leawood welcomes raising tobacco sales age to 21

There are just eight places that sell tobacco and/or e-cigarettes in Leawood, but they might soon find their clientele more restricted if this week’s positive reaction by City Council members to the Tobacco 21 initiative is any indication.

For six months, a consortium of groups known as Healthy KC and led by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City has been pushing area municipalities to raise the minimum age for buying smoking products from 18 to 21. They say it would protect young people from nicotine addiction and improve health across the community.

Thus far, Tobacco 21 ordinances have passed in several cities, including Olathe, Lenexa and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., and Independence and Kansas City. Councils in Mission, Leavenworth and Gardner rejected the proposal.

Proponents of the age increase found a receptive audience among council members at a Monday night work session at Leawood City Hall. Representatives from the chamber, the Johnson County Department of Health & Environment, the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians and others voiced their support for the change.

No opponents of the proposal were present at the work session, and, in fact, some council members argued for penalties for violators even harsher than those adopted recently by neighboring Prairie Village, whose ordinance was discussed as a possible model.

When the matter came up at the regular Council meeting later Monday night, Mayor Peggy Dunn directed City Administrator Scott Lambers to reach out to local tobacco and nicotine-vapor sellers and invite them to comment on the age-increase proposal at the council’s next meeting, May 2.

After that, Lambers said, city staff members could draft a Tobacco 21 ordinance and bring it up for discussion as soon as the May 16 council meeting.

Meanwhile, Little Free Libraries in Leawood are safe for at least another year. In July 2014, after attracting nationwide publicity for attempting to enforce a ban on small front-yard structures containing free literature, the council passed a moratorium on enforcement of the ban and sought input from the city’s homeowners associations on the matter. The moratorium would have expired in May without council action.

Lambers said the attempt to gain input had been “halfway successful,” leaving the city without any response from HOAs representing 45 percent of Leawood’s homes. He said he would redouble his efforts, hoping to get “close to a 90 percent response” before reporting back to the council. At that point, the council might consider a permanent change in city ordinances to permit the little libraries.