Discussing e-cigs and smoking age in Sedgwick County

E-Cigarettes (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

WICHITA, Kansas – There’s a push to increase the legal age to buy tobacco to 21. The purpose is to curb the number of underage smokers.

Officials in Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri and Wyandotte County passed a law Thursday night that did just that. The law includes all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and supplies.

That makes it the second largest metro area in the U.S. to raise the age to 21.

KSN is asking questions about Sedgwick County where there’s a push to allow e-cigarettes in county buildings.

Commissioner Jim Howell
Commissioner Jim Howell

Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell says it’s kind of like a “nanny law.”

“…The government trying to keep us safe from ourselves,” said Howell.

Commissioner Howell’s been at the forefront of the issue locally as the commission looks at whether to allow e-cigs in county-owned buildings.

Howell says the move in the Kansas City metro may be well-intentioned, but won’t work.

“It’s not effective,” says Howell. “It’s not the proper role of government. It doesn’t replace parents. It’s a bridge too far. These people are making a very easy decision. I want to make an informed decision, and I want to help people.”

Tobacco Free Wichita says e-cigs aren’t the answer. Their spokesperson is Carolyn Gaughan spoke with KSN News in a special report back in May.

“One of the main issues with e-cigarettes is that there’s not a regulation of what is in them,” she said.

Tobacco Free Wichita E-Cig Position Paper p. 1 / Tobacco Free Wichita E-Cig Position Paper p. 2

Gaughan argues e-cigs are highly addictive, so the public’s exposure to the product should be limited until their safety can be evaluated.

“One of the most prevalent forms of chemical dependence in the United States,” said Gaughan. “Probably at least as addictive as heroin, cocaine, and alcohol.”

But, there are those who take the opposite opinion regarding e-cigs.

Is it completely harmless? [That is] Yet to be determined,” said Eldon Simmons, the co-owner of Big E’s Vapor Shop in Wichita.Is it absolutely way less harmful than combustible tobacco? Yes.”

Advocates say the medical community should embrace the “smoking alternative.”

“We’re seeing so many people change over from traditional cigarettes to vaping,” said Simmons. “So… we know it’s better.”

Commissioner Howell says he wants to be clear — he’s not promoting e-cigarettes. However, Howell says he wants people to be able to make choices, with love, that could benefit their health, referring to traditional cigarette smokers who are trying to quit.

As Sedgwick County officials consider allowing e-cigarettes in more places, cities throughout the state are clamping down on where people can puff on e-cigs.

As KSN told you earlier this month, Hutchinson banned vaping in most public places. Hutchinson joins six other cities across the state that have passed laws banning e-cigarettes in public places, or have added vaping to existing smoking bans.

Hutchinson passes anti-vaping ordinance

In doing research for this story, KSN came across some surprising statistics about teens and smoking and what experts and even smokers say about raising the age to buy tobacco.

We found that each day, 3,200 teens under the age of 18 smoke their first cigarette.

Nine out of every ten smokers tried their first cigarette before they were 18.

Seventy-five percent of adults polled nationally support raising the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21.

And, we found that seven out of ten smokers not only want to stop smoking, they also support raising the age to 21.

To view information on smoking from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, click here.

KSN Investigates: E-cigarettes and teens 

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