Finney County becomes latest local government to raise tobacco-buying age

GARDEN CITY, Kan. More local governments in Kansas aren't waiting for the state to raise the legal age to buy tobacco or e-cigarettes.

Finney County Monday became the 23rd county or city in Kansas to raise the legal age to buy tobacco or e-cigarettes from 18 to 21. The county commission approve the change with a 3-2 vote.

This change was already implemented in April 2017 in Garden City with the passage of a city ordinance. Holcomb then took similar action.

Other jurisdictions in northeast Kansas, including Lawrence, have adopted the ordinance known as T-21. Monday Eyewitness News spoke with one of Garden City's leading proponents of T-21 and asked if the movement could come to Sedgwick County.

Donna Gerstner works with Garden City High School students to spread awareness about the dangers of tobacco use. Gerstner says she was part of the group that lobbied to pass the ordinance in Garden City, then Holcomb, and finally, Finney County.

She says they want to see the T-21 ordinance passed in every county in the state. She believes it could happen in Sedgwick County. Gerstner says raising the legal age to buy tobacco products by three years has the potential to keep tobacco and e-cigarettes out of the hands of teens younger than 18.

"They were getting it from 18-year-old s that they were going to school with," she says. "You have 18-year-olds in the high school and a kid is not afraid to talk to an 18-year-old they go to school with."

Evan Harger who works at a vape shop in Wichita says he doesn't want the T-21 ordinance passed in Sedgwick County.

"That would take a lot of business away," he says.

Harger says about 25 percetn of the shop's business is 18 to 21-year-old customers and he would likely lose his job if the ordinance came to Sedgwick County.

Harger says younger teens would still find a way to get nicotine because their age doesn't stop them from getting alcohol.

But Gerstner wants to be more proactive in the fight to keep kids from smoking. She worries about the long-term health consequences of starting to use tobacco at a young age.

"Their brains do not develop fully until they're 25, and tobacco does a lot of harm to the brain," Gerstner says.