Lake County officials are considering a change in local law that would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco and e-cigarette products from 18 to 21.
The new rule would apply only to unincorporated areas if enacted, but add to a growing list of local governments hiking the age.
Last week, Buffalo Grove increased the minimum age to 21, joining Deerfield, Highland Park, Lincolnshire, and Vernon Hills. Only Deerfield also bans possession under the age of 21.
"This is a youth (smoking) prevention initiative," said Lea Bacci, assistant prevention coordinator for the Lake County Health Department.
Tobacco use is the top cause of preventable illnesses, she said. A program called Tobacco Free Lake County, one of the department's programs, has done research, given presentations and worked to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products and e-cigarettes.
"Tobacco 21 laws are not meant to be punitive to the user, it's more a policy to affect the sale of the product," Bacci said.
The potential change has been in the works since last fall. It would affect 49 retail outlets in unincorporated Lake County. There are about 400 stores that sell tobacco products countywide.
Bacci said county retailers were sent an educational letter with the proposed ordinance. A public hearing held at the end of July was sparsely attended.
Including e-cigarette type devices is "imperative", according to Bacci, as the use of them is much higher among high school students than traditional tobacco. For example, 18 percent of high school seniors surveyed in 2016 had used e-cigarette products in the last 30 days compared to 6 percent for tobacco products, she added.
According to the health department, an estimated 6,300 youth become daily smokers in Illinois every year.
"Increasing the legal age is an effective policy to prevent youth from starting tobacco use, as it increases the social distance between those who can purchase tobacco products and this still in secondary school," according to a synopsis of the proposal.
The proposal will be discussed at 1 p.m. Wednesday by the Lake County Board's financial and administrative committee in advance of a vote by the full board. Finance committee meetings are broadcast by LCTV and are available online at https://www.lakecountyil.gov/.