CARL JUNCTION, Mo. — After three meetings of debate, the Carl Junction Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday to make the city the first in Jasper County to raise the age to legally purchase tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21.
“This was much more emotional than I thought it would be,” said Mayor Mark Powers, who first brought up the idea of raising the purchase age in October after receiving an email from the mayor of Pleasant Valley asking other mayors to consider the change.
Several Carl Junction residents spoke at the meeting, the first time members of the public had addressed the board about the issue.
Joplin pediatrician and Carl Junction resident Paul Petry said raising the age was important because it would make it more difficult for young people to get tobacco products.
“If you increase the age, what ends up happening is you decrease access to the younger kids,” Petry told the board. “There is a plethora of research to support the fact that if you are older than 24 years of age when you try tobacco for the first time, you are much, much, much less apt to become addicted to it.”
Lindsey Stevenson, a nutrition and health educator for the University of Missouri who works in Carl Junction schools, said vaping is a big issue in schools, and she believes local businesses are not doing a good job confirming the ages of those who are purchasing tobacco and vaping products.
“Vaping is one of the main issues that the school is addressing in their comprehensive improvement plan,” Stevenson said. “It’s an issue, it’s especially an issue for our state and our county, and I just wanted to offer my support as a resident in moving forward with the tobacco ordinance.”
Speaking as a “devil’s advocate,” Carl Junction resident and former Chamber of Commerce president Gary Stubblefield called the proposal “a very slippery slope.”
“Vaping and tobacco are horrible, absolutely horrible,” Stubblefield said. “...Having said that, we elected you to do certain things. We expect you to look after our infrastructure. I want to know that potholes are being fixed and we have police and that we have improved parks. We have heard here from the best people we can hear from about how this can be addressed. It can be addressed in our schools, it can be addressed by our medical community, it can be addressed at home.”
LaDonna Allen, a Ward 4 alderman who voted against the proposal, said someone 18 and older is considered an adult and can join the military, yet she believed raising the purchase age would demonstrate that people don’t trust them to make decisions about their personal lives.
She said adults should have the “free will” to make decisions concerning their personal health.
“Nothing we do is going to solve this problem for the school,” Allen said. “Adults should not sacrifice their rights because children will not behave themselves.
“I do not feel like this is why we were elected,” she added. “I do not feel this is something voters expected or assumed we would decide. I believe we are elected to make sure that there is police protection, good streets, a safe water supply, good wastewater treatment, public facilities and parks. I don’t think they were giving the eight of us on this board the go-ahead to make personal health choices on their behalf and then mandate those choices by law.”
Randy Hutcheson, a Ward 3 alderman, said the city already has an ordinance based on state law that sets the minimum age to purchase tobacco and vaping products at 18, so the city wasn’t enacting any new restrictions.
City Attorney Mike Talley said the state’s law was unique because it allows cities and counties to set more stringent rules.
“It’s an unusual statute,” Talley said. “Most statutes don’t allow that. We have to follow the state statute, we’re a fourth-class city, we can’t do things they don’t authorize us to do, but in this instance, they have.”
Richard Zaccardelli, of Ward 3, said he supported the change because he got hooked on smoking at a young age, when he was drafted into the Army.
“When I was 50 years old, the doctor told me I’ll never get my Social Security benefits if I didn’t stop right now,” Zaccardelli said. “And I did, and now I’m 85. And I’ve been going to Freeman for eight years, in the rehab center, and that’s why, if we can help stop kids from smoking, I’m for it.”
Rick Flinn, a Ward 2 alderman, said he spoke to people in Carl Junction and the opinions he got were mixed.
“In my mind, it’s about 50/50, and I think I was elected to make decisions regarding the safety and health of our community,” Flinn said. “...It’s my opinion this is good for people, good for kids and it’s good for our community.”