Editorial: Mayor Craig Johnson's proposed cigarette sales ban merits study

  • Mayor Craig Johnson is proposing that cigarette sales be banned in Elk Grove Village.

    Mayor Craig Johnson is proposing that cigarette sales be banned in Elk Grove Village. Daily Herald File Photo

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 10/24/2017 3:49 PM

Some of us have been around long enough to remember when suburbs like Evanston, Oak Park and Wheaton were dry.

Did it stop people from drinking? Well, to be sure, it did not stop everyone, no more than Prohibition did.


Those dry days, in most of Illinois at least, seem like quaint remembrances of a sepia-toned bygone era. Evanston allowed liquor sales beginning in 1972, Oak Park in 1973 and finally, Wheaton in 1985.

Now comes Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson championing the revolutionary idea of banning tobacco sales in town. If he succeeds, the village apparently will become the only municipality in the nation to do so.

Would such a move succeed in stopping cigarette smoking?

Again, to be sure, it wouldn't stop everyone.

But what if it stopped some?

Here's an important distinction between alcohol and tobacco. While alcohol can be tremendously harmful, it isn't necessarily so. There's some evidence that, imbibed in moderation, it at times can even be healthy.

No one seriously makes the same claim about tobacco.

As Johnson points out, "Only one product in America, if used as directed, is guaranteed to harm you."

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Some critics of Johnson's proposal draw a comparison between a ban on tobacco sales and Cook County's recent flirtation with a sweetened-beverage tax. Both are cases, they say, of government overreach -- the government dictating presumably healthy behavior to a public that ought to be allowed to make its own decisions.

While we recognize the libertarian argument, the comparison is flawed in three ways.

First, the beverage tax was created to generate revenue for the county. The ban on tobacco sales would altruistically do the opposite, cut into the village's revenue.

Second, it is possible to drink sweetened beverages without being harmed by them. Some beverages, it can be argued, actually can have health benefits.

Third, for most tobacco consumers, the concept of choice is an illusion. In addition to being harmful, tobacco is powerfully addictive. The conventional idea of choice doesn't apply because it is the addiction, not the consumer, deciding to buy the next pack.

We're not ready to endorse Johnson's proposal. But we, like you, know and have known friends, relatives and acquaintances who've suffered because of tobacco -- some who have died prematurely, most likely because of it.

So we're certainly sympathetic to Johnson's cause. He deserves credit for bringing it up. And it deserves a full hearing and full consideration.

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