In 2015, the Healthy KC initiative launched its Tobacco 21|KC campaign to raise the minimum legal age for tobacco from 18 to 21. Healthy KC is a regional health and wellness program led by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City.
The Tobacco 21|KC effort is a true collaboration between public health organizations, advocacy groups, insurance companies, and local small businesses. The University of Kansas Cancer Center was an integral partner in educating city and county decision-makers about the vital importance of raising the minimum age.
As the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Cancer Center in the region, KU Cancer Center has a unique obligation to improve the health of those living in its catchment area as well as reduce the burden of cancer. Smoking is the number one cause of preventable cancers, and 90 percent of smokers start by the age of 21. KU Cancer Center Director Roy A. Jensen, MD, and other cancer center experts presented at numerous city council meetings, stressing that Tobacco 21 is an effective cancer prevention effort that will lead to lower smoking-related illnesses and health care costs.
Dr. Jensen has been a consistent figure advocating for stricter tobacco laws at the state level, including increasing the tobacco tax. In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court unanimously ruled cities can raise the age for buying tobacco products, despite the state law which states the minimum age is 18.
The original goal of Tobacco 21|KC was to encourage five municipalities to adopt legislation by 2018. By January 2018, 25 cities had adopted legislation, impacting 1.8 million people, and more have since joined.