Bridget McCandless knows it would be unreasonable to expect to completely prevent children from smoking. Her aim, she said, is to make it harder for youngsters to start smoking in the first place and possibly give their brains a few more years to make such a decision.
Dr. McCandless, the president and CEO of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and also a leader of the recently announced “Tobacco 21 | KC” movement, urged the Independence City Council Monday to raise the legal age for tobacco purchases from 18 to 21.
The Independence Advisory Board of Health has issued its recommendation for an ordinance that would restrict the sale of tobacco products, e-cigarettes, vapor products and paraphernalia to those age 21 and older.
Knowing that trying to get a statewide Tobacco 21 measure could take infinitely longer, McCandless said health and civic leaders believe a municipality-by-municipality approach would work best, and she hopes Independence and both Kansas Cities can lead the way in the area.
“This is an opportunity I really encourage the city to look at,” she said. The biggest impact we can have on health is anti-smoking.”
So far, Columbia is the only city in Missouri that has raised the age of tobacco sales to 21, having done so last December. In June, Hawaii became the first state to have Tobacco 21, and 104 municipalities nationwide have passed a measure, according the website tobacco21.org.
By raising the purchase to 21, McCandless said, cities can lessen smoking from those younger than 18, as they often get their tobacco products from older peers. A March 2015 Institute of Medicine study estimated that Tobacco 21 would reduce smoking among 15-17-year olds by 25 percent and by 15 percent in 18-20-year olds.
She pointed to Needham, Massachusetts, which became the first city to pass one in 2005. It reported that teen smoking declined 46 percent between 2006-10.
“This really had a long-term effect on smoking,” McCandless said. “You’re really influencing those intuition ages of 12 to 18.
“They don’t really begin becoming a regular customer where they drive sales, until the age of 21 or 22.”
E-cigarette use and vaping has increased among youths in recent years, she added, and manufacturers have become clever with their production, as vapors can now draw flavored, nicotine-laced fumes from things that resemble pens or the tips of sweatshirt drawstrings.
The Tobacco 21 initiative has been endorsed by more than 120 area organizations, though Council Member Curt Dougherty encouraged McCandless to also gain endorsements from the Fort Osage and Independence school districts.
“This would be a chance for them to show some leadership,” he said, adding that the city has an e-cigarette policy well in the works already.
The council directed City Manager John Pinch to research the matter and draft a possible ordinance.