Lake County passes age ordinance on tobacco purchases

By Gregory Harutunian for Chronicle Media

The Lake County Board voted 18-2 on an ordinance to raise the age for making tobacco purchase to 21, during its Sept. 12 regular session.

The new edict impacts unincorporated areas under county jurisdiction, although five municipalities have joined the effort, where the previous minimum age was 18.

The measure passed through the county’s Health and Community Services Committee, and the board’s Finance Committee, by identical unanimous 7-0 votes. The municipalities of Highland Park, Buffalo Grove, Deerfield, Vernon Hills and Lincolnshire passed similar ordinances designed at removing a gateway to smoking at a young age and solely as a health issue.

“I have known many smokers in my life, I know fewer now,” said Steve Carlson, the health and community services committee’s chairperson. “All have one thing in common … wishing that they had never started smoking. In view of the statistics, 95 percent of smokers start before the age of 21, making passage easy, and makes it difficult for today’s youth to make a foolish decision.

“We hope other municipalities will take note and follow our lead,” he said.

The ordinance does not affect towns and villages which have their own ordinances pertaining to tobacco use, with many having the minimum age of 18 for tobacco purchases. The origins came from the Lake County Health Department’s executive director Mark Pfister, as an addendum to existing codes and recommendations that made the spring 2017 county board legislative initiatives for review.

“Looking at historical strategies to lower ages was tied to policy, the system, and environmental attributes,” said Lea Bacci, coordinator of the health department’s Tobacco-Free Lake County (TFLC) prevention program. “As an example, fluoride in water, and seat belts are policies for public safety. The history of prevention and control employs the use of science and policy. We began talking about it last year.”

Enforcement of the ordinance is also slightly augmented by educating retailers on the new age requirement, and the continuation of random compliance checks by law enforcement agencies to ensure that the mandate is fully implemented.

“It starts with educating the public, and letting them know about this, as well as educating the retailer about the program being in place and the new minimum age,” said Bacci.

Measuring the effect of the program and the higher purchasing age will be conducted through both quantitative and qualitative means. Law enforcements agencies such as the Lake County Sheriff’s Department will take the lead. A direct contact approach with students in the countywide K-12 districts will be handled by school resource officers.

“Enumerating the quantitative component will rely on data received through the Illinois Youth Survey,” said Bacci. “We will be eager to see the results from this program, and as a health issue, it’s a paramount concern.

Lake County is the only county out of the 102 counties in the state of Illinois to pass a tobacco-use prevention ordinance and giving it a unique status. It has a Jan. 1 effectuation date.





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