Lake County raises tobacco age to 21


Photo by James Hakesley

The Lake County board recently passed a new ordinance raising the tobacco age to 21.

Lake County became one of the first counties in Illinois to pass an ordinance to raise the minimum tobacco age to 21 years old.  

This ordinance will take effect on Jan. 1, 2018. The measure passed through the Lake county board which consists of 21 members, 19 voting yes and only two voting no. The intended purpose is to increase the social distance between individuals legally allowed to purchase cigarettes and those who cannot. The hope is that this will reduce the amount of young people who begin to use tobacco products under the age of 21.

While the age to purchase tobacco has been raised, the minimum age to possess as well as the age to use tobacco will remain 18. Regarding the use of e-cigarettes, each municipality is in charge of deciding the age. The Lake County board is one of the counties to include the purchase of e- cigarettes under this ordinance.

“When we do presentations with communities encouraging them to pass the Tobacco 21 ordinance, we encourage them to include e-cigarettes, but that’s not always the case, so it’s up to each municipality, each city or village to implement their own ordinance, said Rachel Mintle, a community health specialist at the Lake County Health Department, in a phone interview.

This ordinance affects only unincorporated areas of Lake County due to the fact that the county does not have the ability to regulate the purchase of tobacco products in individual municipalities under state law.  However, a large of amount of municipalities have passed this measure on their own, such as Vernon Hills, Buffalo Grove, Deerfield, Highland Park and Lincolnshire.

According to the Daily Herald, forty nine retail stores are expected to be affected. There are 400 total establishments that sell tobacco products throughout the county. Only forty nine of these 400 stores are within the boundaries of unincorporated Lake County. The other 351 are located within individual municipalities and they are able to pass their own laws regarding tobacco, leaving them not directly affected by this ordinance.

According to the Illinois Youth Survey, a test administered to high school students throughout the state, 1 percent of all freshman, sophomore, juniors at Libertyville High School and 5 percent of seniors have smoked a cigarette in the past 30 days from when this survey was taken.

The new ordinance is expected to reduce the number of high school students who use tobacco considerably. According to the results of the Illinois Youth Survey, the number of high school students using tobacco is already on a steady decline, however, it is still very important to specialists such as Dr. Brenda Nelson, prevention and wellness coordinator at Libertyville High School, and Mintle, that the number is still lowered. Based on the information found by the nonprofit organization, Tobacco 21, 90 percent of people who regularly smoke tobacco begin doing so before or at the age 21. This organization works with health departments across the country on both a national and local level advocating for the passage of this ordinance by different counties and municipalities.

“The younger someone starts smoking tobacco, the easier it is for them to get addicted, just like it is with other substances and the purpose of Tobacco 21 is to really increase the social distance between younger kids and people who can buy tobacco so,” Mintle said. “If the tobacco age is 21, most 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds aren’t gonna know 21-year-olds to buy them cigarettes, but if the tobacco age is 18, there are quite a few kids, I mean they’re in school together, they have access to those 18-year-olds who can buy them cigarettes.”