Cook County set to vote on raising age on buying tobacco products

The Cook County Board is expected to vote this week on whether to raise the minimum age of the sale for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21-years-old.

The proposed ordinance, co-sponsored by Commissioners Scott Britton (14th District) and Larry Suffredin (13th District), amends the current tobacco sales law and prohibits the sale and distribution of tobacco products to those individuals under the age of 21, according to a press release from Britton. Further, it updates the definition of tobacco products to include all forms of consumables derived from tobacco, ranging from leaf to liquid and combustible to aerosolized.

“We know the health risks caused by smoking and vaping tobacco products, especially among vulnerable youth,” said Robert Winn, MD, director of the University of Illinois Cancer Center. “It is vital that we take action and make smart public policy decisions to protect the health of our children and communities.”

Tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States and the world. Tobacco use is a major factor in four out of the five leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and stroke. It causes about a third of heart disease and cancer, and most emphysema, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Respiratory Health Association estimates that each year tobacco use costs Illinois $1.9 billion in Medicaid spending alone.

Worldwide, tobacco use causes nearly 6 million deaths per year, and current trends show that tobacco use will cause more than 8 million deaths annually by 2030, said the CDC. Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the U.S., including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. On average, smokers die 10 years earlier than non-smokers.

If smoking continues at the current rate among U.S. youth, 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18-years-old are expected to die prematurely from a smoking-related illness.

The University of Michigan recently released the findings from its annual Monitoring the Future survey – which tracks national substance use among U.S. adolescents – and it concluded that e-cigarette use, or vaping, among high school seniors doubled in 2018, and that among students in grades 9-12, there were at least 1.3 million new users of e-cigarettes that year. Increases in adolescent vaping from 2017 to 2018 were the largest ever recorded in the past 43 years for any adolescent substance use outcome in the U.S.

“Now is the time to step up our fight against Big Tobacco and ensure the next generation of youth is our first smoke-free generation,” Britton, the Cook County Commissioner, said in a release. “The health of our youth cannot wait.”

Should the ordinance be approved, Cook County would join 430 localities across the U.S., including 34 municipalities and counties in Illinois, as well as California, New Jersey, Oregon, Hawaii, Maine and Massachusetts in recognizing the public health benefits of raising the tobacco-buying age to 21.

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