Tobacco 21 debate in Naperville pits freedom versus addiction prevention

Posted11/16/2016 5:19 AM

Freedom of choice for young adults is butting up against addiction prevention efforts in Naperville as the city council considers raising the age to buy tobacco to 21.

Some say the city should ban the sales of cigarettes and alternative nicotine products to anyone younger than 21 as another way to dissuade young people from becoming addicted and risking health effects.


"That's a habit that stays with them and leads to all kinds of health problems," city council member Judith Brodhead said about smoking.

The proposed ban that gained preliminary support from some council members Tuesday wouldn't make it illegal for people between 18 and 20 to have or use tobacco in the city, as long as they bought it outside of Naperville.

Mayor Steve Chirico said he's changed his mind to support the ban, although he initially worried it would hurt business by driving young cigarette customers to nearby towns. He said the city should draw the line to protect residents from falling into the dangers of smoking.

"The health and safety of people who are most vulnerable to becoming addicted to this has to take precedence," he said.

Some of his colleagues took the opposite tact.

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"I'm very much against government making personal health decisions for legal adults," council member Kevin Coyne said.

He and council member Paul Hinterlong said they wouldn't support any change to the legal tobacco purchasing age of 18 when the matter is scheduled to come for a vote Dec. 5. Council member Kevin Gallaher said overregulation of adult decisions also could strain the city's police force.

"At some point we can regulate people's diet and what they're consuming to the point where it creates a huge enforcement problem," Gallaher said.

If the city moves to ban the sale of tobacco to anyone younger than 21, Detective Dan Riggs said enforcement could take place in the same manner as it does now. All the city would have to do is change the age of the police agents who attempt to buy tobacco products while underage from 16 or 17 to 19 or 20.

If the change is enacted, Naperville won't be the first Illinois city to raise the tobacco sale age to 21; Chicago, Evanston and Oak Park already are among 180 municipalities nationwide that have raised the age. California and Hawaii also have made 21 the legal tobacco age statewide.

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