JEFFERSON CITY _ Missouri would crack down on tobacco vendors who sell cigarettes to youngsters under a measure legislators are considering at the Capitol. But like a Trojan horse designed for ambush, the proposed legislation may backfire on communities at a local level.
The bill's sponsor _ Sen. Edward Quick, D-Kansas City _ says Missouri needs tighter restrictions and penalties for selling tobacco to minors, standard rules and guidelines for all businesses throughout the state.
But several groups and agencies who might otherwise support such legislation claim Quick's bill actually would make it harder for communities to battle local vendors who sell tobacco illegally.
"It prohibits anyone other than the state from doing something about the health hazards of tobacco. This could affect the way our schools deal with a smoke-free environment and the way restaurants deal in communities with clean indoor air." said Dr. Ronald Vincent of the American Cancer Society.
If passed, no municipality, local department, agency, or political subdivision would be able to pass any new ordinances regarding tobacco that would be stronger than state law.
Currently many communities across the state, such as Kansas City and St. Louis County, are using local law enforcement officials and community groups to check up on stores selling tobacco to minors.
Those ordinances would not be affected by Quick's bill. They could still be enforced by local ordinances. But local communities would not be able adopt tougher standards in the future.
"I'm not in any way advocating doing away with any ordnances that are in existence, particularly when it come to restaurants and people who have their own businesses. I think we've infringed on them enough." Quick said.
Those opposed to Quick said communities throughout Missouri need greater flexibility and autonomy.
According to Marvin Feldman, a former Jefferson City councilman, communities like Columbia strongly are opposed to second-hand cigarette smoke in public buildings. Other communities in Southwest Missouri, such as Branson, don't impose as many restrictions on smokers and businesses.
"They have the right to have very limited restrictions against cigarettes, but on the other hand, we in Jefferson City also have the right to protect our children at a level that we feel is appropriate. This bill keeps us from doing that." Feldman said.
According to the Missouri Health Department, 90 percent of those people who smoke all their life begin smoking before age 18.
"Missouri has a relatively high smoking rate among our teenage population, especially from ages 12 to 18," said Pamela Walker, Director of Community Relations at the Department of Health.
"So if we can influence the use of cigarettes among teenagers, then we can have a major impact on smoking overall," Walker said.