Kansas Supreme Court to decide whether Tobacco 21 ordinances violate state law

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- The discussion on whether cities should be able to ban tobacco sales to college-age students took center stage at KU on Monday night.

For the first time in its 158-year history, the Kansas Supreme Court traveled to Lawrence to hear oral arguments on the stage of the university's Lied Center.

The Kansas Supreme Court started night sessions and city visits in 2011 to make the judicial process more accessible to the public.

Eighteen cities in Kansas raised the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21 in recent years.

“The younger you are when you use tobacco or nicotine products the more likely you are to be a life long addict," Tobacco 21 Chair Dr. Edward Ellerbeck said.

While the ordinances have gained a lot of support from health officials, they conflict with state law, which sets the minimum age at 18.

“It gives them certain rights. One of those rights is to sell to people who are not minors," said Robert Duncan, an attorney representing Vapebar Topeka and Puffs 'n' Stuff.

The tobacco shop successfully sued to stop the city of Topeka's Tobacco 21 ordinance from being enforced. Now the state's highest court will decide whether that ruling will stand.

“The Tobacco Products Act simply prohibits the sale to minors. It is silent on adults," Deputy Topeka City Attorney Mary Feighny said.

Feighny equated it to Wichita strengthening DUI provisions to include cyclists or Leavenworth requiring bars to stop serving alcohol at 1:30 a.m.

"Bars weren’t expressly authorized until 3 a.m. There was no right to serve alcohol. It simply prohibited the consumption of alcohol after 3 a.m." Feighny said.

The court’s Chief Justice asked why if state lawmakers wanted the minimum smoking age to be 18, they hadn’t made it more clear in state statute.

“I think its impractical to think that the legislature is going to go back through all of those books that are out on the table and look it every statute and say, 'Oops, we better put a statute in here to make sure that no city or county can enact a statute in contravention of this law,'" Duncan said.

The Kansas Supreme Court also heard a 1997 Wyandotte County murder case Monday where Jason Rucker, one of the convicted killers of Vicky Ernst, appealed his conviction.

The court will enter its opinion on both cases at a later date.

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