Springfield City Council considering changing minimum age for tobacco purchases

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- One out of every four people in Springfield is a smoker, and that doesn't even include e-cigarette use.

That 25 percent rate, as compiled by the Springfield-Greene Co. Health Department, is percent higher than the county and state average (22 percent) and 9% above the national average of 16 percent.

The highest smoking neighborhood in Springfield is at 36 percent and in the northwest part of town the average number of smokers is one out of every three.

"It's something that's really impacting our community," said Jon Mooney, the assistant director of the Springfield-Greene Co. Health Department. "It's not something we can ignore or should we. We really need to be thinking of what kind of measures we can put in place that are really going to reduce smoking rates."

How does it impact the area?

According to the department's data, 37,048 people who smoke are employed in Greene County. They cost their employer an average of $5,800 per year in health care and lost productivity, costing employees an estimated total of $214,878,000 per year.

Smokers cost up to 40 percent more than non-smokers in health care costs.

That's why the Springfield city council is considering joining 20 other Missouri cities including Columbia, Kansas City, and St. Louis in adopting Tobacco 21, an ordinance that moves the minimum age for tobacco purchase from 18 to 21.

"The average age that a kid tries their first tobacco product is roughly 12-and-a-half years-old," Mooney said. "When we look at adults that smoke, 96% of them started before the age of 21."

"Very few people start smoking at age 30," Springfield City Councilman Craig Hosmer added. "They don't wake up some morning and just want to start smoking cigarettes. And people at age 17 or 18 I don't think have the judgement sometimes to make the best decision which is why we have alcohol at 21."

The ordinance would also apply to e-cigarettes which has become more prevalent in schools just in the past two years.

"There really isn't a great awareness of the fact every e-cigarette contains nicotine," Mooney said.

"Young people are attracted to that technology," Hosmer said. "And nicotine is the addictive agent so what happens is people who vape becoming addicted to nicotine."

Even though many people start smoking younger than the current legal age of 18, Mooney says that in the 475 cities nationwide that have adopted the 21 year-old minimum age, it has made a difference.

"It does reduce that use," Mooney said. "It reduces that availability and therefore reduces the youth initiation into tobacco products."

He pointed out that youngsters 12 or 13 years-old might have friends in high school who could get them cigarettes, but few of them had friends 21-or-older who would make the purchase for them.

The Tobacco 21 ordinance will get a first-reading at the council's next meeting on Monday and is still in the discussion stage.