New signage in Chicago for the minimum age to purchase tobacco products seen in June 2016, when Chicago enacted a minimum age of 21 (Michael Tercha / Chicago Tribune)Lake County News-Sun - February 2, 2018 | original article

By Jim Newton

Proposed state legislation to raise the purchasing age of tobacco to 21, a move several Lake County communities have already taken and others are studying, is sponsored by some local legislators and has the support of county health officials.

State Sen. Terry Link, D-Vernon Hills, one of the bill's sponsors, said this week that with tobacco use on the rise among teens for the first time in years, it is the perfect time to have a uniform age of 21 established for legally purchasing tobacco in Illinois. State Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, introduced the bill in the Senate.

Link said the proposed statewide law, known as "Tobacco 21," would increase the momentum of the Smoke Free Illinois law passed more than a decade ago that banned smoking in most public places. Lake County was also a leader in supporting and implementing that law.

"Smoke Free Illinois was a major step forward in improving the health of Illinoisans and making our state a better place to live," Link said. "Tobacco 21 builds on that effort by reducing the number of teen smokers and curbing the next generation of adult smokers, moving us one step closer to a healthier, smoke-free Illinois."

Lake County Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister, who was in Springfield for a news conference on the effort Tuesday, said the Health Department and other Tobacco 21 advocates in Lake County are pleased with the legislative effort.

"We applaud this move by Illinois state legislators to continue pursuing a statewide Tobacco 21 policy, building upon the momentum of Tobacco 21 successes in Lake County," Pfister said. "This is an important step forward in our efforts to prevent youth from using tobacco products."

Mundelein, Vernon Hills, Highland Park, Lincolnshire, Deerfield and Buffalo Grove have already passed local ordinances raising the age limit on tobacco sales to 21. Lake County has also raised the legal limit in unincorporated areas of the county.

According to the Lake County Health Department, other county communities working toward similar action are Waukegan, Gurnee, Lake Forest, Lake Bluff and North Chicago.

Link said in the years since Smoke Free Illinois went into effect, there has been a 20 percent decrease in hospitalization of various smoking-related diseases. But he said that according to the American Lung Association, with the popularity of electronic cigarettes and vaping, tobacco use among teenagers is on the rise for the first time in years.

"More than 90 percent of smokers start before the age of 21," Link said. "We must do everything possible to curb teen use and protect the lives of adolescent Illinoisans. Tobacco 21 will help us do that."

Link pointed to Evanston as an example of the impact raising the tobacco age can have on youth.

In October 2014, Evanston became the first Illinois community to adopt Tobacco 21. Since then, Link said, tobacco use among high schoolers there has dropped by more than 37 percent.

Category: In The News

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