On February 27th, the Bolingbrook Village Board passed an ordinance that will make it illegal to sell tobacco products to, just like with alcohol, anyone under 21. This not only includes cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco; but e-cigarettes and vaping devices as well.
Bolingbrook’s Mayor Roger Claar says there was little disagreement when the ordinance passed unanimously (5-0 with one Village Board member absent). “Actually, we were all thinking ‘why didn’t we do this sooner,’” Mayor Claar recalled. “There’s a ton of statistics that show smoking often begins between the ages of 15 and 21. But if they don’t have access to tobacco, the chance that they’ll start dramatically goes down. It’s a lot easier for a 15-year-old to get tobacco from someone who’s 18 than from someone who’s 21.”
Community Health Educators at the Will County Health Department’s Family Health Services Division are hoping that Bolingbrook’s action will lead to other home rule communities in Will County considering similar legislations. Home rule communities are those that either have 25-thousand residents, or have passed a referendum to become “home rule,” which gives city legislators more power to create their own laws.
Will County’s Community Health Educators want it known that the Health Department’s “Tobacco Control and Prevention Program” is available to offer technical assistance to municipalities. “We have tool kits with resources, sample ordinances, infographics, and other valuable information to assist Will County communities,” the Health Department’s Cindy Jackson stated. “Ninety percent of smokers start before age 21. If we change the age of tobacco purchasing to 21, less youth will start to smoke.”
Community Health Educator Amrita Raghuraman agrees with Mayor Claar’s point that placing the legal age at 21 prevents teens from having easy access. “When the legal age is 18, it is easier to get access to tobacco products when you’re underage, Raghuraman pointed out. “Then you have more Freshman and Sophomores with Senior friends introduced to smoking. Increasing the age to 21 will help prevent youth tobacco use.”
Betsy Cozzie, also with the Health Department, says the fact that the Tobacco 21 ordinance includes e-cigarettes and vaping devices is a major point. She says many of these devices are getting more and more tricky to spot in plain sight. “Juuls, for example, are e-cigarettes shaped like a USB zip drive. And they are actually charged through your computer. All this just gives the younger generation a new way to hide tobacco products from parents and teachers.”
Will County Health Department Community Health Educators continue their efforts to work with communities to pass tobacco policies like Tobacco 21. Through the Reality Illinois program, Health Educators have recruited middle school students from Heritage Grove Middle School in Plainfield to do tobacco policy work within their city. Health Educators guide youth through the experience of working with local governing bodies. They engage youth directly in a collaborative community-based change effort, and give them the skills, confidence, and experience needed to become effective advocates for positive social change.
Community Health Educator Shree Woods says the students who opted to join the effort are now educating the Plainfield Park District Board. “We want to make all of the parks within the district tobacco-free environments, similar to what we accomplished in Braidwood a couple years ago. The kids have a presentation scheduled for May 9th, as we try to take the momentum on this issue further into the whole community. These are kids really interested in making change happen.”
There are various reasons why making these changes is important. According to the 2016 Illinois Youth Survey, 39% of Will County high school seniors had used tobacco products within the last 30 days.
In addition, there’s the 1981 statement from Philip Morris: “Today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer, and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke while in their teens.”
Finally, there are numbers from the Illinois Department of Public Health showing that each year in this state, smoking causes $5.4 billion in healthcare costs, along with $5.27 billion in lost productivity. On the other hand, economists predict that nationally, Tobacco 21 could end up saving $212 billion in medical costs.
Municipalities desiring assistance from the Will County Health Department Tobacco Control and Prevention Program in efforts to pass Tobacco 21 can call the program at 815-727-8769.