Kansas Supreme Court to decide tobacco purchasing age in Topeka

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FILE – In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass. U.S. health regulators are moving ahead with a plan to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of teenagers by restricting sales of most flavored products in convenience stores and online. (AP […]

The Kansas Supreme Court will soon decide whether to raise the age to buy cigarettes in Topeka. In 2017 the city passed an ordinance to raise the age for buying tobacco products to 21.

A lawsuit from local businesses sent the case to the supreme court. Former city councilmember Elaine Schwartz introduced the ordinance to the city council.

Schwartz said she was motivated to make the rule because of her own experience with cigarettes. 

“I had smoked probably when I was 15 and stopped in the year 2000,” Schwartz said. She said the smoking caused heart damage that required her to have surgery.

She said the goal of the ordinance is to keep young people from getting addicted to tobacco products. 

“The research shows that if you’re before 21 and you take up smoking or tobacco use, you become addicted to it then,” Schwartz said. 

Spencer Duncan is the state director for the Kansas Vapers Association. Businesses in his association are suing Topeka over the ordinance. 

“We are challenging the authority of the state versus the municipality to change these laws,” Duncan said. “It is our contention that this is to be done at the state level only, and the municipalities do not have the authority to change the age.”

Several Kansas cities have raised the age through similar ordinances. Schwartz said she thinks the cities will effect change in the state law. 

“A lot of times if you have quite a few cities pass something, then it does become state law,” she said.

Duncan said he’s not against raising the age, but rather how it’s being raised by the city.

“I don’t know that we’re outright opposed to that,” he said. “It’s how it’s structured that we’ve also had issues with.”

He said the rule is one-sided against businesses.

“They only enforce it on the individual who sells the product,” Duncan said. “There is no penalty to a minor who purchases or uses the product.” 

The Kansas Supreme Court heard arguments during a special session Monday night at the Lied Center at the University of Kansas. The hearing was open to students and the public.

There isn’t a set time for when the court will release its decision in the case.

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