In light of state tobacco law, St. Charles raises possession age to 21
Starting next month, people under the age of 21 won't be able to purchase tobacco anywhere in Illinois. In St. Charles, they won't be able to possess it, either.
A new state law, which goes into effect July 1, raises the legal age for buying tobacco products, electronic smoking devices and vaping materials from 18 to 21. But it also eliminates penalties for underage possession.
To avoid sending mixed messages from a law enforcement perspective, St. Charles aldermen on Monday unanimously approved raising the possession age to 21 within city limits. The move aims to keep tobacco and alternative nicotine products out of the hands of minors and underage young adults, especially in the high schools, Police Chief James Keegan said.
"If you need to be 21 to buy it, you should be 21 to possess it," he said. "Keeping possession (consistent) with sales ... puts us in a better position from the city to have a united front."
In 2018, St. Charles issued 103 citations to minors found with tobacco or nicotine-based materials, Keegan said. In the first four months of this year, 53 citations had been given out.
The use of e-cigarettes and vape pens has dramatically increased in schools nationwide, and Keegan says St. Charles is no exception. Under the city's previous ordinance, 18-year-old students were able to legally get their hands on those products, which made it easier to bring them to school and share them with underage classmates, he said.
Raising the city's possession age to mirror the state's sale age allows police and school officials to better "enforce the possession in schools," Keegan said.
The city's updated ordinance also requires employees selling tobacco and nicotine products to be at least 18 years old, and an employee 21 or older must be present.
Before Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the "Tobacco 21" legislation in April, several suburban towns had started enacting similar measures at the local level.
St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina initially wasn't a fan of the trend, he said, particularly because having inconsistent regulations among neighboring towns could result in an "enforcement nightmare." He also believes 18-year-olds should be able to make their own decisions about smoking if they're able to vote and serve in the military, he said.
"But the state made the move, and we're bound by that," Rogina said, noting he also understands the growing concerns over vaping in schools. "I'm happy (Keegan) brought this because we have consistency, at least, with respect to both possession and purchase. I think that's important."
According to the city's updated ordinance, people under 21 who are caught buying or possessing tobacco in St. Charles will be fined $100 or 15 hours of community restitution for their first offense; $250 or 30 hours for their second offense; and $500 or 100 hours for each subsequent offense.
In addition to adding signage, Keegan said, city officials are working to inform business owners and employees of the state law and city ordinance changes. About 35 retailers in St. Charles have licenses to sell tobacco products.