Editor's note: This story has been updated from previous versions.
Young Kansas City smokers will have to drive a bit farther to buy their cigarettes, e-cigarettes or vapor products under an ordinance that's getting widespread support in the metropolitan area.
On the same day as the American Cancer Society's annual Great American Smokeout, the Kansas City, Missouri, City Council voted 11-1 Thursday in favor of an ordinance raising the minimum age to tobacco products, rolling papers and alternative nicotine products to 21.
The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, also voted on a similar measure Thursday night, which passed with 6-1 in favor of the ordinance.
Neither city's ordinance changes the legal smoking age of 18.
Kansas City, Missouri, Councilwoman Alissia Canady called raising the purchasing age "the responsible thing to do as policymakers."
If the regional effort is successful, Kansas City would become the second-largest metro area in the U.S. -- behind only New York City -- to raise the minimum age. In December, Columbia became the first Missouri city to do so.
The ordinance is a perfect fit for other local health initiatives such as Healthy Communities Wyandotte, said Mike Taylor, spokesman for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas.
His city's vote was scheduled to coincide with that in Kansas City, Missouri, to bring additional attention regionally to the ordinance, he said.
The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce is spearheading the metro-wide effort, called Tobacco 21/KC, which is part of a national initiative by the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation to get communities across the country to raise the legal age.
The hope is that the change will slow the trickle-down of smoking items to children younger than 18 who often get them from older friends and relatives, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce President Jim Heeter said.
In April, the chamber announced a partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City called Healthy KC, with the goal of making Kansas City one of the top 10 healthiest communities in America. Raising the legal age for buying tobacco products is a big step, he said.
"The reason we think it's important is because, by the very simple action of changing the ordinance, it will have the dramatic effect of keeping cigarettes out of the hands of our youngest citizens," Heeter said. "I'm not just talking about folks who are 18."
A report issued earlier this year by the federal Institute of Medicine concluded that raising the legal age to buy tobacco to 21 would result in 249,000 fewer premature deaths, 45,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer and 4.2 million fewer years of life lost for people born between 2000 and 2019 when they reach their 40s and 50s.
"The first place in the country to do this was in 2005 in Massachusetts," said Dr. Rex Archer with the Kansas City Health Department. "They found that even though it was a while before it started to spread to other border communities, it still had a significant impact on reducing youth from becoming addicted."
He said supporters expect a domino effect once the two Kansas City governments have approved the ordinance.