It soon will be illegal for stores to sell tobacco products and vaping supplies to most people under 21, but city commissioners granted some exceptions.

On a 3-2 vote Monday evening, commissioners approved an ordinance banning the sale of all tobacco products and vaping supplies to people under 21 and also making it illegal for those under 21 to try to buy tobacco and vaping supplies. It still will be legal for people 18 and over to possess tobacco. The ordinance will take effect after publication in the Parsons Sun, the city’s newspaper of record. Commissioners Jeff Perez and Bill Hogelin joined Commissioner Tom Shaw, the main proponent, in voting for the ordinance.

“I support it. I’m on board,” Perez said.

Mayor Kevin Cruse and Commissioner Peter Cook voted against the ordinance.

The commission had discussed a draft ordinance for a few weeks that city staff had created after Shaw had mentioned the new law intermittently for a couple of years. Shaw had suggested adding a provision for active-duty military personnel to buy tobacco from 18 to 20, and City Attorney Ross Albertini added that into the ordinance, requiring service members to show military ID.

On Monday, the commission was offered two versions of the ordinance. One would allow people who already turned 18 when the ordinance goes into effect to continue buying tobacco, with the other one leaving that provision out. The commission approved the former because Shaw said he didn’t want to take away anyone’s rights who could already buy tobacco and might already be addicted. The alternate version wasn’t discussed in previous meetings and likely was added after Thursday’s work session at the direction of Shaw or another commissioner.

Shaw had been pushing for the tobacco-21 ordinance since 2016 as a way to try to improve the health of the city, noting that most people start smoking at a young age and if they can be deterred from smoking while teenagers they perhaps won’t start the bad habit at all. Shaw said perhaps the smoking ordinance could increase Labette County’s health ranking, which was 103rd out of 105 counties in the state, according to the Kansas Health Institute.

Shaw said he received a call Monday afternoon from Cortney Koenig, a community health specialist with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment Tobacco Use Prevention Program. Koenig, based in Pittsburg, is the Southeast Kansas area representative for the program. Shaw said Koenig called to offer support and appreciation for Parsons’ tobacco-21 effort after learning about it in the weekend edition of the Sun.  

Shaw said Koenig told him the effort is “a huge step,” and passage of the ordinance will make a difference. She told Shaw younger teenagers go to school with 18-year-olds, but they don’t hang out much with 21-year-olds. Eighteen-year-olds who vape or smoke influence the younger teens. If the legal age to buy tobacco or vaping supplies is 21 rather than 18, that influence to vape or smoke is diminished.

Shaw also read a few statistics regarding the Institute of Medicine’s predictions about lowered tobacco use and the number of lives saved as a result of tobacco-21 laws. He also said 30 major health-related associations favor raising the legal age for tobacco.

Shaw said 19 other communities in Kansas have approved tobacco-21 laws, including several in the Kansas City area as well as Iola, Topeka and Garden City. Only Topeka has run into a legal snag, he said, alluding to a Shawnee County District Court injunction against that city’s ordinance.

Cook, however, wasn’t convinced by Shaw’s arguments.

“People are going to get cigarettes if they want to get cigarettes. People are going to get tobacco if they want to get tobacco,” Cook said.

Cook instead favors creating smoke-free zones in the city that would apply to people of all ages. He has suggested making the parks and downtown Parsons smoke-free. All of the commissioners support smoke-free zones, especially in the parks or at least in and near the play areas of the parks, and there was a lot of discussion about that possibility during the meeting.

City Clerk Debbie Lamb said city staff could prepare an ordinance for smoke-free zones before the commission’s next meeting.

“I’d be wholeheartedly in support of smoke-free zones. I’m still kind of on the fence on the ordinance for 21. I just feel like when you’re 18, you’re an adult. They throw all kinds of stats at me, but call me old-school, I think at 18 you have a will of your own. This is a democracy, and I think you should follow that,” Cruse said.

Cook said he doesn’t think tobacco-21 laws are enforceable. Police Chief Jason Sharp told him that the police department has written only three citations for minors in possession of tobacco, and those were related to possession of marijuana. Cook said Sharp can’t remember anytime anyone was arrested solely for minor in possession of tobacco. He said trying to enforce a tobacco-21 ordinance would just put more burden on the police department.

“I think tobacco-free zones like our city parks and maybe a downtown area are much easier to enforce and make a much greater impact publicly when we say, ‘You cannot smoke. It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 35 or 62 or you’ve had a habit for 50 years. Go find an area where you can smoke, but it’s not here,’” Cook said.

Cook said unless the area covered is much greater, a tobacco-21 ordinance won’t lower the number of young smokers.

“I do not see that raising the age to 21 is going to make a difference there. I’m sure that it will result in fewer cigarette sales here. It might increase them in Erie. It might increase them in Oswego,” Cook said.

In other business, commissioners:

— Approved purchase of electric-scanning equipment for pipes along with training, assistance and consultation at a cost of $153,685 from Electro Scan Inc. The equipment will be used to check for leaks in the sewer system.

— Approved payment of $63,887 to Hinman Construction for renovation work on the restrooms at the rock shelter house in Forest Park near Heacock and Grand.

— Approved payment of $11,404 to HDR Engineering for work on a sanitary sewer improvement project funded in part by a Community Development Block Grant. The project is part of the city’s Environmental Protection Agency compliance work. They also approved payment of $7,018 to HDR for work on the wastewater treatment plant influent pump station upgrade and excess-flow holding basin, also part of the EPA project.

— Approved payment of $16,200 to Burns and McDonnell Engineering for work on a Tri-City Airport runway maintenance project. The project is being funded by a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, with the city matching 10 percent.

— Approved payment of $11,355.50 to TranSystems Corp. for work on the reconstruction of Cattle Drive, improvements to North 16th Street (U.S. 59) and construction of two access roads for the future development of a hotel and conference center. The commissioners also approved a change order that will add $8,300 to the project for the rental of two electronic message boards. Construction work on the project is being funded in full with a Kansas Department of Transportation grant, with the city paying for all of the engineering costs.

— Approved resolutions authorizing the city to board up structures at 1410 Washington Ave. owned by Michael Walters and Emily Schoenhofer, 1112 Washington Ave. owned by Ronald Scruggs and 1809 Clark Ave. owned by Stella and Marvin Dumars.

— Approved a resolution authorizing the city to remove an inoperable vehicle at 2326 Chess Ave. owned by Virginia Cook, Living Trust.

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