Judge Rules Topeka’s Tobacco Buying Law Violates Kansas Constitution

Retailers had brought the suit against the municipality’s Tobacco 21 ordinance.

April 06, 2018

SHAWNEE COUNTY, Kan. – A district court judge decided that Topeka’s Tobacco 21 ordinance violated the Kansas Constitution, the Kansas City Star reports. A tobacco retailer and vape shop filed a suit against the ordinance, using the argument that it went against the state constitution.

Robert Duncan, attorney for the plaintiffs, said that the success could mean more lawsuits against the 15 other Kansas municipalities that have enacted a higher tobacco buying age. The decision by district court judge Franklin Theis hinged on the state’s “home rule” principle, which lets areas approve different regulations, provided those laws don’t conflict directly with state law.

Duncan successfully argued that because Kansas tobacco licenses allow retailers to sell tobacco products to those 18 and older, Tobacco 21 ordinances aren’t constitutional. Tom Palace, who lobbies for Kansas convenience stores, labeled the ruling “extremely helpful” for retailers. “Our members were happy to hear the results of the court case and they’re taking it under advisement at this point,” Palace said.

Theis issued a permanent injunction that forbids Topeka from enforcing the Tobacco 21 ordinance. He called the state law setting tobacco enforcement at age 18 as a “bright line” between adults eligible to buy tobacco and minors who aren’t.

Duncan believes appealing the decision could mean the ruling might become applicable outside of Topeka. “If there is an appeal, then we’ll get a statewide decision and I believe Judge Theis will be upheld, because it’s a very well-reasoned order,” he said.