Starting July 1, it will be illegal in Garden City for anyone younger than 21 to buy or possess tobacco or electronic cigarette products.

The Garden City Commission on Tuesday approved an ordinance increasing the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21, a decision that grew from a request made by a group of Garden City High School students earlier this year.

In February, eight members of the school’s LiveWell Committee talked to the commission about the Tobacco 21 program, a nationwide effort to raise the age to buy tobacco products.

The committee is made up of students who are passionate about improving the health and reducing the use of nicotine among teens in the city.

The program targets 15- to 17-year-olds who get tobacco products from their older friends. The group cited a 2005 study that said 82 percent of teenage smokers get tobacco products from their friends, and 47 percent of adult smokers became addicted to tobacco before age 20.

The ordinance makes it unlawful for anyone younger than 21 to possess or attempt to purchase any type of tobacco product, as well as electronic cigarettes. Violators would be subject to a $25 fine. It also will be unlawful to sell, furnish or distribute tobacco products or electronic cigarettes to anyone younger than 21, with violators subject to a Class B violation and a minimum $200 fine.

Carol Davidson, assistant director of neighborhood and development services, said the ordinance is modeled after ones passed by other Kansas communities. She said 15 communities in the state have adopted Tobacco 21 legislation.

The ordinance will go into effect July 1.

“We just wanted to thank you for your consideration and letting us present to you a couple of months ago. We wanted you to know that we did this for the health of teenagers like us, and we know the struggle with tobacco for teenagers because we are teenagers,” said GCHS student and LiveWell Committee member Hannah Schultz.

Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the ordinance. Commissioner Chris Law voted against the change, questioning the need for government to get involved. Though he hasn’t heard either support or opposition from the public about the ordinance, he said he still would have liked to put off a decision for a couple of weeks to make sure citizens were aware of it.

“I also have a hard time reconciling the age, where you’re still able to do other things at age 18, but now not this,” Law said. “I wish people didn’t use tobacco and get addicted to it, but I’m not sure it’s the government’s place to impede on that. Why not 19? Why not 23? I don’t know what the magic number is.”

In other business Tuesday:

During its annual reorganization, commissioners elected Melvin Dale as mayor for the next year, chose Roy Cessna as vice mayor, and named the Garden City Telegram as official newspaper.

Outgoing Mayor Chris Law said the past year was a humbling experience.

“It’s always been my intent to study an issue and come up with the best result we can,” Law said.

Dale called it a compliment “to be deemed worthy” of the position by the rest of the commission, and said they have set the bar high.

“I have my work cut out to maintain what we have all worked so hard to achieve. I want to thank my colleagues for the opportunity to serve as mayor of this fine city,” Dale said. “I look forward to serving the city with an eye toward the future and working together to maintain the quality of life which we’ve enjoyed in Garden City.”

During general public comment, longtime resident Duane West talked to commissioners about the Circle of Friendship Club, an idea intended to help people in Garden City become better acquainted with one another. West said the club would require no dues, officers or meetings, only the wearing of a button on which a person would write their name and then pledge to introduce themselves to others and ask for their name in return.

“Our society has become so much more divisive and we’ve got to do something to change that,” he said. “Now some folks are bashful, but no one will be twisting your arm to be a member of this unique club. I hope people will get into the swing of making Garden City a place where everyone is somebody.”

Joyce Grover, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence recognized Janene Radke, executive director of Family Crisis Services, as recipient of the Visionary Voice Award given by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

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