Kane County considers raising age on tobacco buying, possession in unincorporated areas
Unincorporated Kane County might become the 20th locale in the state to require residents be at least 21 to buy or possess tobacco products. That includes electronic cigarettes and other alternative nicotine goods. The move comes a year after an initial countywide push went up in smoke.
The debate renewed Wednesday on the heels of a county health ranking that, despite landing in the top 10, dinged the county for the 14 percent of its adult population who smoke. The rate is better than the state as a whole, but it's not as good as some counties with better rankings.
There is now an extra catalyst in the form of an online survey created by the Kane County Public Health Department. The survey, though nonscientific in its method, received more than 600 responses that, so far, support raising the legal age to 21 to buy tobacco.
Barb Jeffers, executive director of the health department, told county board members it's time to renew the debate. She was present when Aurora city officials raised the local tobacco purchasing age to 21 last month.
"The compelling argument there," Jeffers said, "was a resource officer from one of the schools came in with three, gallon-sized bags of vaping products. They are having problems with these all throughout the high schools. The students are using them all the time."
Jeffers said Aurora officials also collected information from local tobacco vendors showing only 2 percent of sales involved customers younger than 21.
With a limited local impact to businesses, members of the county board's public health committee directed Jeffers to bring them an ordinance to vote on next month. It would be the first step to a countywide change for all the unincorporated areas of the county, including Burlington Central and Kaneland high schools.
Kane County Board member T.R. Smith pointed to those specific schools as the main reason the county should raise the age.
"If we pass this here, those schools will have to enforce it," Smith said. "I'm sorry we didn't take care of this issue when it first came up. We missed the boat. But this would assist the high schools in their endeavors to control this."
A dozen local communities approved similar ordinances in the year since the county first discussed the issue. Evanston started the movement in 2014. Chicago followed in 2016. Lake County became the 12th community to increase the age limit last September. Wilmette, Bolingbrook and Gurnee preceded Aurora with affirmative votes last month.
A bill in the Illinois House (HB3208) never made it to a third reading in the previous legislative session. An amended version is back in the House Rules Committee.