Editorials

Solid Tobacco 21|KC campaign gains momentum in area cities

Some teenagers smoke after school. A number of cities in the Kansas City area have joined the Tobacco 21|KC campaign to raise the legal age from 18 to 21 for people to buy tobacco products and e-cigarettes.
Some teenagers smoke after school. A number of cities in the Kansas City area have joined the Tobacco 21|KC campaign to raise the legal age from 18 to 21 for people to buy tobacco products and e-cigarettes. THE KANSAS CITY STAR

Not every local city in recent months has raised the minimum legal age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21. But Tobacco 21|KC has enjoyed a lot of success since the smoking cessation initiative began in October.

Healthy KC — a partnership of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City — started Tobacco21|KC to improve the health and well-being of area residents.

Its four pillars are nutrition, physical activity, work/life integration and tobacco cessation.

The Healthy KC Tobacco Action team has made presentations to attack the smoking problem before it would normally start in teens. Increasing the legal age to 21 for tobacco purchases, including e-cigarettes, curtails smoking among 14- to 15-year-olds because the younger teens largely rely on older peers to buy cigarettes for them.

Studies have shown that raising the age limit will lead to fewer long-term smokers and reduce overall smoking rates by 12 percent. That’s a sound reduction.

Fortunately, the campaign has won buy-in from city councils in Kansas City; the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan.; Independence; Olathe; Gladstone; Prairie Village; Bonner Springs; and Iola, Kan. Last week, it passed in Lenexa. Aldermen in Grandview studied it and could take action soon.

The Lansing City Council is expected to vote on Tobacco 21|KC on Thursday. Overland Park — one of the area’s largest suburbs — could decide the issue in May.

Tobacco 21 started in 1996 as a national effort. Needham, Mass., became the first city to act in 2005 and reported a dramatic decline in teen smoking. Columbia was the first Missouri city to sign on, in 2014. New York City and dozens of other cities in the U.S. have passed Tobacco 21 measures, as has Hawaii.

Some businesses that sell tobacco products and e-cigarettes have come out against Tobacco 21|KC. City councils have defeated it in Leavenworth,

Gardner and Mission.

That’s a shame. Some officials in those cities used the senseless argument that if young people at age 18 are legally able to vote in this country and to enter the military, they should be wise enough to decide for themselves whether or not to smoke or use other tobacco products.

Currently, 23.1 percent of Missouri's high school students and 24.1 percent of students in Kansas high schools are tobacco users, compared with 22.4 percent nationwide. We can do better than that, considering that about 90 percent of adult smokers start before age 18.

Most smokers say they wish they had never taken their first puffs as teenagers when they were trying to be cool with their peers. Governments should feel obligated to help young people, realizing that the addictive power of tobacco products is greater on teenage brains.

Smoking is a huge public health concern because of the greater risks of stroke, heart disease and cancer. More than 480,000 deaths annually in the U.S. are attributed to smoking.

Tobacco 21|KC’s success is expected to decrease annual tobacco sales by only 2 percent but result in millions of dollars saved in health care expenses.

That’s an excellent reason for more city, county and state governments to join the Tobacco21|KC campaign.

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