Differences in Tobacco 21 villages could mean headaches, fines for young smokers

 
 
Updated 12/29/2018 5:18 PM
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  • In the absence of a statewide bill, young Lake County smokers who obtain tobacco legally in one place might run afoul of local law enforcement elsewhere.

    In the absence of a statewide bill, young Lake County smokers who obtain tobacco legally in one place might run afoul of local law enforcement elsewhere. Daily Herald file photo

Starting New Year's Day, smokers will need to be at least 21 to buy -- or even possess -- tobacco products in Lake Zurich, making it the latest town to join a move aimed at reducing the number of young smokers and keeping cigarettes out of high schools.

State lawmakers voted this year to raise the age statewide, but failed last month to override Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto.

Towns across Illinois, meanwhile, are going it alone.

As of earlier this month, 28 towns across the state, plus unincorporated Lake County, had raised the age to 21, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Raising the age for sales makes Lake Zurich the 12th village in Lake County to join the Tobacco 21 movement, but only the second to include possession.

Yet, what's illegal in one town is allowed in another, leading to a patchwork of tobacco laws across the suburbs that can be confusing and hard to enforce.

In Grayslake, for example, where the College of Lake County is based, smokers can buy cigarettes at 18. They can't in neighboring Gurnee or Mundelein. And if they live in Lake Zurich, they can't bring legally purchased packs home.

Brandon Ferrara, student trustee on the College of Lake County Board, said he didn't think it was right for the rules to differ from village to village.

"It's not fair to the people who bought it legally that they could get a citation," Ferrara said, who is not a smoker and supports raising the age to 21 statewide. "Usually when things are uniform, they go a lot smoother, then police would all be on the same page."

However, two villages -- Lake Zurich and Deerfield -- have separated themselves in Lake County by also approving rules that punish anyone under the age of 21 from possessing tobacco products.

Kyle Kordell, assistant to the village manager in Lake Zurich, said the board adopted the rule because it makes local enforcement easier for police when there is a standard age for use, sale and possession.

"Enforcement gets overly complex when you start making exemptions for local regulations," Kordell said.

Deerfield's rules have been in place since December 2016. Deerfield Deputy Police Chief Tom Keane said according to their records they have yet to cite anyone for underage tobacco possession since the change, but he added that officers would do so if they noticed that an 18-, 19- or 20-year-old had tobacco on them when stopped for a different violation.

After the Gurnee village trustees approved a Tobacco 21 ordinance, which does not raise the age of legal possession, Police Chief Kevin Woodside said village officials felt it wouldn't be fair to punish 18- to 20-year-olds who bought tobacco elsewhere and traveled to Gurnee.

That thinking is reflected by the nonprofit organization that is pushing the legislation.

"We would prefer the responsibility be on the retailers and not the children," said Julie Mirostaw, the director of government relations for Tobacco 21.

Mirostaw said organization officials prefer the new rules be business compliance based.

Tobacco 21 was the key supporter of the statewide bill to raise the tobacco age. More than just not punishing 18- through 20-year-olds, Mirostaw said that bill would have eliminated possession charges for tobacco products altogether.

"There is no evidence to show that penalizing children decreases smoking rates," Mirostaw said.

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