Tobacco 21 Ordinance Defeated in Kansas’ Shawnee County – Who’s Next?

Tobacco 21 Ordinance Defeated in Kansas' Shawnee County

2017 saw many local governments introducing legislation that raised the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. Now a battle is brewing in Kansas that poses a interesting question that could have ramifications beyond the state’s borderlines–are 21-and-up laws even constitutional?

A tobacconist and vape shop retailer won a lawsuit in March 2018 against Topeka’s Tobacco 21 ordinance after arguing that the ordinance violated the state’s constitution. Now, the state is bracing itself for more suits and this could be a trend that’s seen in other states with similar ordinances.

The recent court case focused on Shawnee County and examined the “home rule” principle in Kansas’ state constitution that gives cities and counties in the state the right to enact their own ordinances–just as long as those ordinances don’t come into conflict with state law. Robert Duncan, the attorney that represented the retailers, argued that the Tobacco 21 ordinance conflicted state law because tobacco licenses issued by the state allowed retailers to sell tobacco products to individuals 18 years and older. The judge in the case issued a permanent injunction in the case, prohibiting Topeka from enforcing the Tobacco 21 Ordinance because the state was already enforcing the law that set the tobacco purchasing age at 18, meaning an ordinance setting the minimum purchasing age at 21 was in conflict with that law.