Could Joplin join list of Tobacco21 cities? Council holds first discussion Monday night

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With the nationwide concern for the increasing trend of vaping among American teens, a growing number of city governments have taken action to keep these and other nicotine products out of the hands of local youth.

Two weeks ago, the Carl Junction city council approved a Tobacco21 ordinance that prohibits selling nicotine products to anyone under 21, and now Joplin city leaders are joining in on the effort.

Council members held the first round of discussion for their own Tobacco21 ordinance at Monday night’s meeting, seeing an overwhelmingly amount of support from the community.

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The Tobacco21 initiative was heavily pushed by both the Vision Joplin 2022 and One Joplin organizations, both of whom had spokespeople present at the meeting. According to Scott Vorhees with Vision Joplin 2022, cities who have adopted similar ordinances have seen a decrease in youth nicotine usage anywhere from 39 to 45 percent.

Along with their own push for the bill, both organizations have received nearly 70 letters of support from local business, hospitals, schools, and non-profits.

Several community members stepped up to the podium to voice their concerns for the youth in our community, including voices from youth themselves. Johanna Jeyaraj, a junior at Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School, explained to the council that she has seen the growing use of vaping products among her classmates and friends, and that an ordinance would help to keep Joplin’s student population healthy and tobacco-free.

From an economic standpoint, Joplin Chamber president Toby Teeter also voiced the chamber’s support – claiming that the ordinance could save the Joplin business community approximately $45 million in employee health insurance plans due to the outstanding amount of health risks associated with nicotine use.

Chamber President Toby Teeter approaches the council to discuss the economic benefits of the Tobacco21 ordinance

City leaders themselves also spoke in favor of the bill, including councilman Keenan Cortez. Cortez, admitting that he is a smoker who started around the age of thirteen (which is also the national average age people start using tobacco). He stated that had the city had an ordinance like Tobacco21 when he was a teen, he likes to believe that it would’ve prevented him from starting.

“It’s time to lead our community and it’s time to lead our youth to better habits,” Cortez explained as he motioned for the city’s next round of discussion.

Those in opposition of the bill also stepped before the council to voice their concerns. One community member claimed that regardless of the health risks of nicotine, the ordinance would be discriminatory against those ages 18-20–explaining that young adults are able to serve in the military and vote but aren’t able to make conscious health decisions.

Along with Carl Junction, Joplin would join the list of Missouri cities that have adopted the ordinance including Springfield, Columbia, Jefferson City, and St. Louis.

The council unanimously approved the reading of the ordinance, which places it on the consent agenda for the next meeting. Council will meet again on Monday, December 17, at 6 pm on the fifth floor of city hall.

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