Normal Enacts Tobacco 21 Ordinance

Normal has raised the minimum age to buy tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21.

The town joins the ranks of 26 other Illinois communities with similar laws, including Peoria and Washington. The change goes into effect Dec. 1.

The unanimous council vote Monday night follows a meet-and-greet last month with representatives of the Illinois State University chapter of the Tobacco 21 coalition.

Council members commended students’ work advocating for the change, citing their own connections to the issue.

“I’m pleased to see people in that age group standing up and saying, ‘We want this, and we want this now,'” said council member Chemberly Cummings. “This was something that kind of hit home personally, knowing those who have passed away from lung disease, from prolonged tobacco usage.”

“I think we all had a similar experience that night,” said council member R.C. McBride, who is also GLT’s general manager. “It was interesting as you talked to (the students), most all of them had gotten involved because they knew someone who’d had lung cancer or something.”

“Smoking is what killed my father,” McBride continued. “So a lot of us sadly have that in common.”

Speaking on the group’s behalf at Monday night’s council meeting, Patricia Fountain of Normal said while communities with similar laws have seen reduced tobacco use among high schoolers, the rising popularity of e-cigarettes threatens to undo that progress.

Fountain cited a recent statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb calling youth e-cigarette use and nicotine addiction an “epidemic.” The statement accompanied the publication of data from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, showing that e-cigarette use among high schoolers jumped 78 percent between 2017 and 2018.

Normal resident Charles Sila said while preventing people from taking up smoking is a worthy goal, an ordinance goes too far, restricting the choices of legal adults.

“At age 18, most citizens can buy a house and sign a binding mortgage, or buy a car and sign a binding note without anyone’s permission,” he said. “Essentially treating some citizens as grade school students is totally unfair.”

Council member Kevin McCarthy said with tobacco and other drugs, it’s not necessarily about choice.

“We know what the cigarette industry does is put things in cigarettes that makes them addicting,” he said. “Once kids start, it’s very difficult to get off. It’s not just laziness, it’s not just social pressure, but it is a matter of the chemicals that are put in the cigarettes as well. So I think it’s important that we give them every fighting chance and keep that out of their hands as long as we can.”

Under the ordinance, vendors caught selling tobacco and vaping products to those under 21 face a $50 fine on the first offense and a $500 fine for repeat offenses.

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November 20, 2018

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