HOLCOMB — The Holcomb City Council did not take action on a T-21 ordinance Wednesday, but Mayor Brian Rupp said eventual passage is a strong possibility.

The policy that would raise the minimum age to buy, sell and possess tobacco products in Holcomb to 21 tentatively had been slated for consideration and potential passage at Wednesday’s council meeting, but Rupp said concerns about an agenda crowded by insurance policy considerations and an ongoing review process of the T-21 policy by the city attorney delayed the decision.

Rupp said there is “a lot of consensus” that a T-21 ordinance is “something that we think is probably a pretty good idea,” but the council does not yet have an official stance on the issue.

During the meeting’s public comment section, a presentation was given by Donna Gerstner of the LiveWell Finney County Health Coalition, Yulissa Hernandez of T-21 advocacy group Holcomb Resist, and Ginny Chadwick, national youth director of the Tobacco 21 Foundation.

As a national advocate of the initiative, Chadwick said Holcomb is just as important as any other community visited by T-21 representatives. She noted that about 300 ordinances have been passed nationally, “so 25 percent of the nation’s population is covered by Tobacco 21 policy.”

Holcomb has put the brakes on a decision in the wake of a Shawnee County lawsuit disputing the legality of the T-21 ordinances. In March, a tobacco retailer successfully challenged Topeka’s T-21 ordinance, culminating in a permanent injunction issued by District Judge Franklin Theis prohibiting the city from enforcing the ordinance.

Tobacco enforcement in Kansas sets 18 as the fundamental threshold between adults who are eligible to purchase tobacco and minors who are not, he wrote.

Supporters of the T-21 initiative have speculated that this might be the first time the ordinance has been successfully challenged and struck down. Now opponents of the initiative are considering taking on the policy in other parts of the state.

Last year, Garden City was the first municipality to pass a T-21 ordinance in western Kansas after a cadre of Garden City High School students sponsored by Gerstner and LiveWell Finney County brought the issue to the city commission.

Gerstner said at Wednesday’s meeting that the Topeka ruling is unique to that court district and does not affect other parts of the state, and the issue comes down to the “home rule” principle of the state Constitution, which allows cities and counties to enact ordinances that do not directly conflict with state law.

T-21 proponents say that state law only prohibits retailers from selling tobacco products to people under 18.

“As a graduate of Holcomb (High School), tobacco is a serious problem here,” said Hernandez, a 20-year-old sophomore at Garden City Community College. “Just as a community member and a graduate and alumni, I would love to see this pass and not put off because of what’s going on in Topeka, because that doesn’t affect us.”

Chadwick said young people are becoming addicted to e-cigarettes and eventually transitioning to conventional “combustible” cigarettes.

She said T-21 advocates are appealing the Topeka ruling to the Kansas Supreme Court, which likely won’t begin proceedings until next year.

Prior to Topeka’s passage of T-21, state localities passed 19 other T-21 policies that have gone unchallenged, Chadwick said.

“I urge you guys to go ahead and act,” she said. “We think that there’s support and we’ll be behind you when you do because it’s the youth of today that you’re going to start saving those lives of.”

If Holcomb’s city council passes a T-21 ordinance, Gerstner and other T-21 advocates plan to present the proposal to the Finney County Commission this summer.

 

Contact Mark Minton at mminton@gctelegram.com.