WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — On Tuesday, the Wichita City Council deferred voting on the proposal to tweak the current tobacco ordinance.
You must be 21 years old to purchase tobacco in Wichita, which will stay the same.
This long discussion by the City is to possibly change how it punishes those who are underage purchasing tobacco and selling to youth.
Assistant City Attorney Jan Jarman shared the proposal Tuesday in the Wichita City Council meeting.
She said the current tobacco ordinance is not in compliance with state law.
State law said it is a class B misdemeanor punishable by a minimum $200 fine if someone sells or gives any tobacco products to someone under the age of 21.
This proposal would change the city code to meet that rule.
There were many comments and questions from the council, including concerns about how employees of stores or smoke shops could be fined.
“Some of the concern with the council was looking at how big of a penalty that would be for the clerk. A lot of these folks make minimum wage, so hitting them with $200 to $1,000 and six months in jail was a point of contention,” said Wichita City Councilman Brandon Johnson.
Many people who spoke during Tuesday’s public comment said they hope to see punishments go away for youth caught with tobacco.
“I know people who struggle with tobacco addictions, and it is a touchy subject,” said Wichita Collegiate High School Junior Kaitlin Henry.
Henry said Tuesday was her first time attending and speaking at a Wichita City Council meeting.
She said her time as a youth ambassador with the Wichita American Heart Association made her want to share her opinion on the proposal.
“I don’t think it is fair to have a mistake that a teen makes include like jail time,” said Henry.
The Wichita American Heart Association has been working on this ordinance for a few years.
The proposal would remove punishments for youth caught with tobacco. Instead, law enforcement would confiscate the item(s).
“We are looking to have more of that penalty shifted toward business owners,” said Wichita American Heart Association Government Relations Director Kari Rinker.
Rinker shared she believes you can reduce access to tobacco by juveniles by holding retailers accountable.
Johnson said another week will give the City a chance to reassess employee fines, look at other cities’ ordinances, and consider business inspections.
The council will revisit this next Tuesday.