Lake County officials want to develop an ordinance that would raise the legal age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products to 21.
The informal decision Tuesday followed a presentation to the county board's health and community services committee about the possible health and economic benefits of increasing the age at which it's legal to buy cigarettes, chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes that contain nicotine. The minimum age today is 18.
Mark Pfister, the Lake County Health Department's interim executive director and its director of prevention, said 95 percent of adult smokers take up the habit before they turn 21.
"If we can prevent kids from starting, they never will (as adults)," Pfister said.
Increasing the age for legal cigarette purchases could prevent the onset of diseases such as high blood pressure and cancers and reduce health care costs, he said.
"These are very costly diseases to our health care system," Pfister said.
Chicago and some suburbs -- including Naperville, Highland Park and Deerfield -- already have increased the threshold to 21. The ordinances in those communities only concern the sale of tobacco products, not possession or use.
Lake County would draft similar rules for stores in unincorporated areas, using those ordinances as models, Pfister said. The regulations would not apply to businesses within municipalities, which would be governed by those communities' ordinances.
County Administrator Barry Burton suggested bringing Sheriff Mark Curran into the discussion, since his deputies would enforce the ordinance.
A timetable for the development of a Lake County ordinance wasn't mentioned during Tuesday's meeting. Health committee leader Steve Carlson, a Gurnee Republican, said he'd like to see a draft "as soon as possible."
Committee member Paul Frank, a Highland Park Democrat, also spoke in favor of raising the minimum age.
It could give state lawmakers "a nudge" to craft a plan for all of Illinois, said Frank, who was on Highland Park's city council when it adopted its ordinance last year.