Attendees at an Evanston Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition meeting Wednesday voted unanimously to urge the City Council to raise the minimum age for tobacco sales from 18 to 21.
The vote came after they heard a talk by the head of the Division of Cardiology at Northshore University HealthSystem, Dr. Timothy A. Sanborn, who cited statistics from Needham, Mass., that saw cigarette usage among high school students decline dramatically after it raised the age in 2005.
Dr. Sanborn at coalition meeting Wednesday
In anticipation of pushback from cigarette retailers, Dr. Sanborn noted that only 2 percent of cigarette sales are to persons in the 18-21 age range and that any revenue loss to the city from taxes on cigarettes would be eclipsed by a reduction in health care costs to the community.
Bill Geiger, a member of the Evanston Township High School District 202 School Board and longtime president and CEO of the McGaw YMCA, said at the meeting, held at ETHS, that “the potential impact this can have on the health of the community is substantial.”
The coalition, whose mission is to increase the health of Evanston youth by addressing and preventing the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, was told by Dr. Sanborn that tobacco is the entry-level substance by youth that typically precedes later use of alcohol and drugs.
Limiting access to tobacco products, he said, has been particularly effective in communities that have tried it. New York City joined the movement in May, but it has been slow to catch on in Illinois.
Evanston has been a leader in anti-smoking efforts, he said, in that it was one of the first communities in the state to ban smoking in bars and restaurants, and he sees the raising of the minimum age from 18 to 21 to be “an opportunity to reduce one of the most important health risks in the United States.”