Tobacco sales ban was right, but legal fight would be risky, expensive
Last month, I asked that the Elk Grove Village Board consider a complete ban of the sale of tobacco in Elk Grove Village. I believe that banning the sale of tobacco is the right thing to do, as it is the only product that if used as intended, is guaranteed to harm you.
Elk Grove Village has long been a national leader in protecting the health and safety of our community. We have not been shy about addressing difficult and controversial issues, or taking bold steps when necessary. In 2000, the village addressed a growing problem of alcohol sales to minors by adopting a law requiring universal ID check for the sale of alcohol, no matter how old the buyer appears. The village board took this unprecedented step because we understood that addressing underage drinking was more important than any perceived burden on local businesses.
The universal carding requirement has worked as anticipated, with the village experiencing a drastic reduction in incidences of the sale of alcohol to minors. In fact, it worked so well that the state of Tennessee requested our language to adopt a similar carding requirement throughout the state.
In 2006, amid growing concerns about exposure to secondhand smoke, our village board voted to make the Elk Grove Village a smoke-free community, prohibiting smoking in all public places, including bars and restaurants. Many restaurants came to us concerned about the effect on their businesses, but again the village recognized that the health of our residents and visitors was more important. Less than two years later, the entire state of Illinois became smoke-free.
Even back in 2006, I knew we were just nibbling at the edges of the tobacco problem, and I requested at that time that we consider a full ban on tobacco. At that time, a major CEO of a chain of fueling stations showed up for our hearings. When asked why this matter was so important to him, he noted that we would be the first to stop the sale of tobacco, and he was fearful that our unprecedented actions would open the floodgates for other communities across the country to similar actions.
Elected representatives have a duty to promote the health, safety and welfare of our constituents. While people may argue that the proposal to ban the sale of tobacco infringes on individual liberties, it has long been the role of government to enact such regulations when necessary to best fulfill this duty. At various times in this country, it has been legal to conduct duels and to sell drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. When I was growing up, there was no law requiring the use of seat belts in vehicles. As times have changed, so has our understanding of what it means to create a safe community.
When our village board agreed to review a request from a resident to consider raising the age for the purchase of cigarettes from 18 to 21, I again said, "Let's stop nibbling at the edges. Let's do this right and ban the sale of tobacco completely."
It might be simpler to make these decisions at the state level, but I believe that it has to start somewhere -- as it did with universal ID checks and with smoke-free communities.
Unfortunately, a local municipality faces a number of obstacles in being a leader on these types of issue. If Elk Grove Village were to proceed, we would face the likelihood of protracted and costly litigation, in addition to the possibility of a complete override by larger government bodies that rely on revenue from sin taxes such as cigarettes.
I truly believe with all my heart that banning tobacco is the right thing to do, and that someday a government body will have the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, today is not that day and Elk Grove Village is not that government body. As such, I have withdrawn my request to ban the sale of tobacco in our community.
The village will continue with the consideration of raising the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21. The public forum for discussing this proposal will take place on Nov. 14, and it will provide the full board the opportunity to consider this matter and hear public input on this topic. The proposed ordinance will be voted up or down that same evening during the village board meeting.
Craig Johnson is village president of Elk Grove Village.