Jackson County will join the local governments that won’t allow the sale of cigarettes and similar products to those under age 21.

The move affects only the unincorporated parts of the county, home to about 22,000 residents, but it’s another step toward for the Tobacco 21 effort in the metro. The group started about a year ago, and Dr. Bridget McCandless, president and CEO of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, said its initial goal was to get five cities on board within three years.

“We’re at 19 in one year,” she said. Those communities – including Kansas City, Mo., Kansas City, Kan., Independence, Lee’s Summit, Overland Park and Olathe – account for almost 1.4 million people, more than half of the metro population.

In Jackson County, the largest cities not to have raised the legal age to buy to tobacco to 21 are Blue Springs, Grain Valley and Raytown.

The County Legislature approved the measure unanimously on Monday. The change takes effect Jan. 1.

Bridgette Casey, the county’s health director, said 95 percent of smokers take up the habit before the age of 21.

“Ultimately we hope to have less smokers,” she said.

The change affects tobacco to be smoked or chewed, as well as rolling papers. It also affects vapor nicotine products, and McCandless said that’s important because many teens are starting off that way and switching to smoking. Vending machines will have to be under the direct supervision of an establishment’s owner or in a place where those under 21 cannot get to them.

Healthy KC, which is promoting the 21 age limit, says 23.1 percent of Missouri high school students use tobacco and that most smokers under 18 get cigarettes from peers who are 18 to 20. The group also points to an Ohio State University study showing that the average smoker costs a private employer $5,218 per year in excess costs connected to smoking.

McCandless said Monday’s move by the county is good step.

“It will eventually mean, we hope, that the whole county will be covered,” she said.