On Sept. 26, the Liberty City Council approved an ordinance that increased the smoking age to 21 within city limits. With a 5-3 vote in favor of the ordinance, Liberty now joins over a dozen other cities in the Kansas City metropolitan area that have also raised their smoking ages and follows up on a precedent set by William Jewell College’s recent campus-wide ban on smoking. This continues a trend that extends even past Kansas City borders to other parts of Missouri, with cities such as Springfield, Branson and Jefferson City considering similar legislation.
The Missouri-wide push for higher smoking ages, known as Tobacco 21, is built off numerous statistics—primarily that Missouri possesses “an above average rate of high school smoking and adult smoking.” According to Tobacco 21, Missouri also has the lowest cigarette tax rate in the nation at $0.17 a pack compared to $1.29 in Kansas. Additionally, the state spends only 3.2 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended amount on smoking prevention. The movement claimed its first victory in Dec. 2014, when Columbia became the first city in Missouri to pass the smoking age proposal. Only weeks before Liberty passed a similar ordinance, St. Louis County raised its smoking age to 21.
These ordinances operate on top of state law, which still establishes that the smoking age is 18. However, these local laws are constitutional by state standards and are legitimate as additions to state and federal levels.
Opponents of the ordinance claim it oversteps boundaries, citing the fact that at age 18, one has the right to vote and join the military, making a person of that age an adult who is not in need of government intervention. However, Tobacco 21 insists that this is the age at which people are the most vulnerable to becoming addicted. In addition, the decision-making parts of the human brain do not develop until age 25, criteria researchers often use to justify restricting drug sales to minors.
While some cities take the ban only as far as selling cigarettes and e-cigarettes to minors, Liberty also applies it tobacco paraphernalia, limiting its sale to approved retail tobacco stores. In addition, underage citizens found with any of these products will be subject to a minimum fine of 100 dollars for the first offense, and the preexisting smoking ban in public places still stands. The ordinance will go into effect in Liberty immediately and Dec. 1 in St. Louis County.
Photo by Kristen Agar