JEFFERSON CITY - Thomas Hoppe, a Democratic Representative from Kansas City, says it should be illegal for persons under 18 years of age to possess tobacco products.
"I want to keep kids out of possessing tobacco," Hoppe said, crushing a Marlboro in a desktop ashtray filled with spent cigarettes.
He soon lit another.
The national preoccupation with kids and tobacco has a local angle. More than half of middle school students in Missouri had used tobacco products at least once, according to a 1999 survey by the Missouri Health Department.
Vendors would be allowed, under Hoppe's proposal, to choose whether to ask for identification. It would be their responsibility to prevent the sale of tobacco to persons believed to be under the age 18. The burden would be on the purchaser.
State health officials are not supporting the proposal, however. Gary Wilson, a spokesman for that department's Health Promotion Division, said it would make getting cigarettes easier for kids who look older than they really are.
He supports following current regulations, which require retailers check ID for customers who appear to be under age 27.
Without a required age check, it would be easier for minors to purchase cigarettes, Wilson said.
Hoppe said that he doesn't feel this is necessary.
"The sellers who want to ask for it could still do it. It wouldn't be different from getting liquor," he said.
If caught for the first time, minors would be charged with an infraction. Second and subsequent violations may include community service.
Locally, a wide range of Columbia stores, including Break Time, Deer Park Store, and Kwik Store, have been charged with selling tobacco to minors within the last 18 months.