CARL JUNCTION, Mo. — A proposal to raise the age in Carl Junction to buy tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 years old prompted a spirited discussion among aldermen at their meeting Tuesday night.
No vote was taken, and no vote is expected for at least another month, but Carl Junction Mayor Mark Powers said he thought it was something board members needed to talk about in the wake of reports of people becoming ill and dying from illnesses traced back to electronic cigarettes and vaping.
Powers said after the meeting this was the first time aldermen discussed the issue, and he wanted to give them time to hear from constituents before deciding whether to adopt it.
“Well, you guys can blame me for this,” Powers told the eight aldermen. “I received an email from the mayor of Pleasant Valley encouraging mayors across the state to look at this because of the problems we’re facing with vaping. What I’m asking is, does anyone have any problems if we do something like this? Do you think it’s necessary? What are the comments from the council? That’s why I brought it up.”
Can they do it?
Some aldermen first questioned whether Missouri law allows the city to make age changes.
City ordinance and state law prohibit people younger than 18 from buying tobacco or vaping products, but Carl Junction City Attorney Mike Talley said state law allows cities to raise the age.
Talley said that “state law specifically says cities can have more stringent regulations than the state regulations. All of these regulations that are in this ordinance are already on the books verbatim in our ordinances. The only change is to the age. We already regulate possession and purchase; the only change is from 18 to 21.”
Powers also noted the proposed ordinance doesn’t regulate anything new and is a change to already regulated products.
“The state is regulating who can buy tobacco and who can’t,” Powers said. “All we’re doing is modifying the age they can buy it, if we decide to do this.”
Powers added that he’s normally a conservative person who doesn’t believe more government regulation is better, but in this case, he said, he sees a need for an exception.
“I’m not a crusader, but I just thought it was something that was reasonable,” Powers said. “When he sent it to me, I wanted to bring it before the council because other cities in Missouri have done it and I just wanted our opinions. If it doesn’t pass, I’ll be fine with that, too. I don’t smoke, my kids are all older and so it’s not going to affect me one way or another.”
Alderman LaDonna Allen said she didn’t think the city should make its ordinance stricter.
“I agree that it is dangerous because I have a sister who, for the last 20 years, has been a trauma nurse in urgent care and she’s seen a lot of things,” Allen said. “My problem is I don’t think at a city level that we want to get involved in regulating this kind of activity.
“If it’s legal at the state level and you’re considered an adult at 18, even though we may not agree with something or may not think it’s healthy, I don’t know (that) it’s our place as a city to step in and do this. I think if nothing else, individuals need to contact their legislators and lobby for some change at the state level.”
Alderman Richard Zaccardelli said he’s concerned about lung problems caused by vaping in particular.
“I tell you, all you have to do is go down to rehab and look at all the people who have to have oxygen,” Zaccardelli said. “You can smoke 40 years before it happens, but this vaping is causing lung problems in 10 years, five years.”
Although Allen said she didn’t believe city aldermen should be telling people how to live healthier lives, Aldermen Rick Flinn disagreed.
“We were elected to make decisions to protect this community,” Flinn said. “I smoked, I chewed tobacco, I haven’t done vaping or anything like that. I’m not the best physical specimen in the world to be talking about this fitness and health, but this stuff is killing people and we protect kids by not allowing them to buy beer. If they go across the street to buy it, that’s on them and the parents, but I think we need to protect what we can protect here.”
Alderman Mark Satterlee said he understood concerns about too much government regulation but that raising the age of purchase could help discourage young people from starting smoking or using vaping products until they have more information.
“As someone who has struggled with tobacco use, both in smoking and chewing tobacco, and someone who dealt with cancer — throat cancer — I understand what LaDonna is saying,” Satterlee said. “And I started when I was 18, but if my vote will keep someone from starting when they’re 18 or 19 possibly, to maybe when they are a little bit more mature, when more literature is out, whatever, especially on this vaping. We are put on here to make the decision, we’re elected here to make decisions for the community and it’s one of those tough ones, but I think I would vote for it.”
Alderman Mark Burns said he was leaning against the ordinance for reasons similar to those cited by Allen.
“I think historically, where we live, people are in favor of less government control,” Burns said. “I think tobacco use is terrible and I’m against it by any means, but what’s next? Are we going to require people to brush their teeth twice a day? Are we going to regulate that because of health concerns? I’m with you, LaDonna, I think less government control is what I’m for, but I’d like to get the opinion of some of the other residents in town before we make a decision.”
Powers asked aldermen to reach out to their constituents in the coming weeks and ask them what they thought about the proposal.
He said the ordinance would be discussed again at the next meeting, set for Nov. 5. If the aldermen decide they want to proceed with the ordinance, it could be placed on the agenda for approval or disapproval at the meeting on Nov. 19.
“This is what it’s all about, talking about these things,” Powers said. “These are issues that affect all of us, and we need to be aware of these things. You guys go out and talk to people through your wards and get a consensus of what the people think.”