Kansas City merchants aren't supposed to sell cigarettes to anyone under age 18, but for years there has been no enforcement, City Council members concede.
So on Thursday the council approved a new measure designed to put teeth in laws against cigarette sales to minors.
The ordinance empowers the city's Regulated Industries Division to perform inspections, seize contraband and present evidence at business license suspension hearings, just as they do when investigating alcohol sales to minors.
Regulated Industries Manager Gary Majors said his office enlisted the help of four underage students over the past six weeks to test whether merchants would sell them cigarettes, primarily at gas stations and convenience stores. Out of 99 attempts, the minors were able to buy cigarettes in 56 instances.
Councilman Scott Wagner said the state of Missouri used to enforce the law, but the ranks of its inspectors have dwindled from 22 to two.
"The state is not doing it," Wagner said. "The problem continues."
Councilman John Sharp, chairman of the council's public safety committee, said the new provisions will allow the city to do a better job of preventing such sales and protecting the health of minors.
"We expect that law to be followed, just as we expect the law to be followed on the sale of alcoholic beverages," he said.