Kane County considering change in age to buy tobacco
Kane County officials may follow the example of communities to the east in requiring residents to be at least 21 years old to purchase tobacco products.
The county board's public health committee gave a preliminary thumbs-up to the idea Wednesday. Michael Isaacson, the county's assistant director of community health, said raising the age to 21 would help prevent residents from becoming addicted to tobacco products. Studies show most people don't start smoking after age 18. Raising the age to 21 can help further limit that number by, in part, making it less likely younger teens will have access to tobacco through older siblings still living at home.
Kane County has relatively low smoking rates. The teen smoking rate is 8 percent. The adult smoking rate is 14 percent. That compares to a total statewide smoking rate of 18.3 percent in 2015, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The total national smoking rate for the same year was 15.1 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Isaacson said the push to raise the age comes with concerns about teen smoking rates showing signs of rising. Some of that is attributable to the popularity of vaping, he said.
"A lot of people feel that (vaping) is strongly contributing to teens smoking more," Isaacson said. "There is a perception that those devices are safe. But they get kids addicted to nicotine. Overall, evidence shows it is more of a detriment to people's health having so much e-cigarette use out there."
Kane County isn't alone in the push to raise the smoking age. The Illinois Senate approved legislation raising the state smoking age to 21 last May. The bill never moved out of committee in the House. That hasn't stopped individual communities from enacting their own age hikes. Naperville raised the age to purchase tobacco products to 21 in December. Chicago raised its tobacco purchase age to 21 in March of 2016. Communities such as Oak Park, Highland Park and Deerfield have all followed the example.
The Kane County Board can impose a change in the tobacco purchasing age only in the incorporated areas of the county. Monica Silva, chairman of the Kane County Board's Public Health Committee, said it's time for Kane County to set an example for municipalities such as Aurora, Elgin and others to follow.
"I, for one, am very much in favor of raising the age," Silva said. "I know it is a controversial issue. But statistics show it is important for people to stay away from tobacco, especially at a younger age. We have to look at doing what is right for Kane County. The change may not be as effective if (other communities) don't come on board, but that should not stop us."
Isaacson deflected concerns about detrimental impacts to businesses with numbers showing tobacco purchases by people 18 to 20 years old is a relatively small percentage of sales for any business in the area. In contrast, when Boston gradually raised the age to purchase tobacco to 21 over several years, the smoking rate plummeted.
Board members asked for more data about the public health and government costs of smoking. But they supported moving the topic forward for consideration by the full county board, which meets early next month.