Healthy KC calls for raising the age of sale of tobacco products to 21


Oct. 22, 2015


Pam Whiting
Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce
Phone (816) 374-5481

Scott Hall
Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce
Phone (816) 374-5437


“We’re asking cities around the Kansas City region to take action and raise the age young people can buy tobacco products from 18 to 21,” Jim Heeter announced at a news conference this morning. Heeter is President and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. “It’s one of the most effective ways to prevent kids from starting a noxious habit that can end in their early death.”

The “Tobacco 21|KC” effort is being launched by Healthy KC, a partnership of the Chamber and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City that includes business, health care organizations, hospitals, nonprofits, government, and more. To date, 101 organizations and individuals have endorsed Tobacco 21 KC.

“The rates of teen and youth smoking are higher in both Kansas and Missouri than in the rest of the nation,” says Dr. Bridget McCandless, CEO of the Health Forward Foundation and Co-Chair of the Healthy KC Commission. “Research shows that those who have had their first cigarettes by age 18 are almost twice as likely to become lifelong smokers as those who have not tried by age 21.” A growing amount of research, she says, indicates that the human brain is still developing well past one’s 18th birthday, and that nicotine has an adverse effect on that brain development.  

Erin Schneider-Stucky, Co-Chair of the Healthy KC Commission and Vice President and Chief Sales Executive, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City, says, “According to the CDC, more than 5.6 million kids who are under the age of 18 today will die early from smoking related illnesses. Nearly $170 billion is spent in direct medical care for tobacco-related diseases every year. If we lower the number of smokers by reducing access to tobacco products to people under the age of 21, we can reduce the number of people dying from a preventable cause and lower our overall healthcare costs. Tobacco 21|KC is a solution we support because it’s been proven to work in other communities similar to ours and we know the long-term results will improve the health and wellness of our community.”

The suburban city of Needham, Massachusetts, was the first to implement Tobacco 21 in 2005, and saw teen smoking decrease by an astonishing 46 percent between 2006 and 2010. Following Needham’s example, the state of Hawaii, along with 94 cities in seven states, have now passed Tobacco 21 legislation.  

Earlier this year, the Institute of Medicine released a study estimating that Tobacco 21 would reduce smoking among 15 to 17-year-olds by 25 percent, and among 18 to 20-year olds by 15 percent. Meanwhile, the public support for Tobacco 21 is strong, with polls indicating that approximately 70 percent of the public favor the idea.

“We appreciate the strong support we’ve received so far from the 101 businesses, organizations, educators and health care providers that have endorsed Tobacco 21|KC, with new endorsements coming in daily,” Heeter says.

“And now we’d like to get the public involved as well. If you support Tobacco 21, go to and sign the petition we’ve started – just do a search for Tobacco 21 KC. Then let your city officials know you’d like to see Tobacco 21 in your community.”