TOPEKA, Kan. – In a ruling that is sure to draw the attention of c-store retailers nationwide, a Kansas judge in a Shawnee County court ruled for plaintiffs arguing that a local ordinance that increases the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 is unconstitutional, according to the Kansas City Star.
At least 15 municipalities on the Kansas side of the Kansas City metropolitan area have passed similar ordinances, the news agency reported.
In the Shawnee County case, a “home rule” principle in the Kansas Constitution allows cities and counties to enact their own ordinances, as long as they don’t directly conflict with state law. The attorney for area retailers in the case, Robert Duncan, said Topeka’s Tobacco 21 ordinance did conflict because the tobacco licenses that the state of Kansas issues to retailers allow them to sell to people 18 and up, the Star reported.
Supporters of the law say it only prohibits retailers from selling tobacco to people under 18. Tobacco 21 ordinances, therefore, are more stringent than state law, but don’t conflict with it.
Franklin Theis, the district court judge in the case, ruled for Duncan’s clients in March and issued a permanent injunction prohibiting Topeka from enforcing its ordinance. He wrote that the state law that governs tobacco enforcement in Kansas set 18 as a “bright line” between adults who are eligible to purchase and minors who are not.
Duncan told the news agency he is in conversation with others about duplicating the Shawnee County efforts elsewhere.
Supporters of the ordinance told the Star they would review their options, which may include an appeal of the ruling.