University of Kansas faculty and Lawrence community members are pushing for the city commission to increase the legal age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21.
The group, Tobacco Free Living, began as a work group through LiveWell, a countywide coalition working to address various health concerns.
“There’s a real opportunity to explore the impact that a Tobacco 21 policy would have in Lawrence and Douglas County,” said Tobacco Free Living Chair Vicki Collie-Akers.
The policy would prohibit the sale of tobacco products to people under the age of 21, but there would be no restriction on the underage possession or use of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, vapes and juuls, according to Collie-Akers.
Surrounding cities and counties have already adopted the Tobacco 21 policy, including Wyandotte and Johnson counties as well as Topeka, according to a document from the Public Health Law Center. Three hundred other cities and counties from across the country have also adopted the policy, as well as the states of California, Oregon, Hawaii, Maine and New Jersey.
“That has some unintended consequences,” Collie-Akers said. “We really don’t want kids from other communities coming here just so that they can get tobacco.”
Collie-Akers said ideally, a Tobacco 21 policy would reduce minors’ access to the substance. According to the CDC, nearly 20 percent of high school students report using tobacco products, but Collie-Akers said that high school students she has spoken with estimate it to be much higher.
“It’s a very sensible policy. I think that’s part of what I find so attractive,” Collie-Akers said. “I think we tend to think of a lot of more recent tobacco prevention work to be sort of tax based, raising taxes on tobaccos, and this isn’t a tax. It is only trying to change the age of purchase and sales, so I think it’s a really unique opportunity.”
The policy will affect students at the University between the ages of 18 and 20 as well, as a 2013 survey of over 3,000 University students found that 16 percent of students reportedly used tobacco products.
Grace Schulz, a freshman from Castle Rock, Colorado, said the policy would be inconvenient and cause confusion as to where purchasing is and is not legal at 18. Schulz said she purchases Juul pods at local convenience stores.
“I think that moving the age up is going to make people mad,” Schulz said. “How are you going to have it 18 in some places [in the state] and 21 in others?”
In a later 2016 study, it was found that 64 percent of students from the University were in support of banning tobacco use on campus, which was implemented in July.
The work group has gained support from a number of organizations across Lawrence, including the Lawrence Public School District, a resistance chapter within the Boys and Girls Club, Breathe Easy At KU, and a number of healthcare providers, including Watkins Health Center.
Collie-Akers said the Lawrence City Commission will be holding a work session on Oct. 9 to discuss Tobacco 21, and said that the work group will have a better idea of support coming from the commissioners after that.
“I think we will have a better sense of where their perspectives are landing,” Collie-Akers said. “We do know that we have some city commission members who are in favor of this and are hoping to continue to provide education and encouragement to other city commission members in advance of that meeting.”
Collie-Akers said the work group hopes community members will support the policy, and said that they want to be supportive of any student looking to take steps toward cessation.
“I think that for students who are here already and maybe are in that 18 to 20 window and maybe are already using tobacco products, we hope that we can be really supportive in any cessation steps that they are willing to take,” Collie-Akers said. “There are a number of resources here in the community … so I think that we are prepared to be helpful in cessation attempts.”
Students and faculty wanting to quit smoking can find services such as the KanUQuit Tobacco Cessation Program at Watkins Health Center.