Evanston aldermen Monday unanimously backed an ordinance that would raise the age for sale and purchase of tobacco products from 18 to 21. But they stripped a provision from the ordinance that would have also made it illegal for young adults to possess cigarettes.
In urging removal of the ban on possession Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said it would criminalize something that’s perfectly legal across the city’s border and could lead to a $200 to $500 fine.
Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said criminalizing something that has been legal for years “seems excessive.”
“If smokers are addicted,” he added, “they will use it” despite the legislation.
Alderman Jane Grover suggested that young adules could just smoke in their own homes, but Wilson said the ordinance as proposed would still make that activity against the law.
Removing the ban on possession for 18 to 21 year olds from the ordinance passed 7-2 with Grover and Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, voting against it.
The existing ordinance already criminalizes possession of cigarettes by persons under age 18, but Evanston police say they’ve only made one arrest for that offense in the past three years.
Holmes suggested that the city consider a total ban on the sale of tobacco products, but that idea was not put to a vote.
The higher smoking age ordinance still requires another vote at a City Council meeting on Monday, Oct. 27, to take effect.
The higher age limit, with the possession ban, had been unanimously approved by the council’s Human Services Committee last week after advocates said a similar ordinance in Needham, Mass., had cut teen smoking rates in half — largely because it made it less likely that high-school age youths would be able to get cigarettes from their slightly older friends and relatives.
The supporters also argue that young adults are especially at risk for becoming addicted to smoking because their brains are more susceptible to nicotine than those of older adults.