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City eyeing crackdown on e-cigarettes

An electronic cigarette  |  Sun-Times Library

An electronic cigarette | Sun-Times Library

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Updated: December 25, 2013 6:34AM



Chicago would ban e-cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited and snuff out the sale of menthol and flavored tobacco products in a wider area around schools, under a mayoral crackdown timed to coincide with a cigarette tax hike of 75 cents a pack.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is joining forces with Aldermen Will Burns (4th) and Edward Burke (14th) to target products used to lure teen smokers into a lifetime addiction.

Their first ordinance would regulate e-cigarettes as “tobacco products” subject to Chicago’s smoking ban.

That means they would be moved behind the counter of retail stores with sale to minors off limits. Adults would be prohibited from smoking e-cigarettes in virtually all of indoor Chicago except private homes and vehicles, hotel rooms designated for smoking and at least 10 feet away from building entrances. The city would also license e-cigarette dealers.

The second ordinance would prohibit the sale of menthol flavored tobacco products within 500 feet of Chicago schools. That’s five times the existing radius.

The companion ordinances will be introduced at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, when aldermen are expected to approve the mayor’s 2014 budget, which includes a cigarette tax increase of 75 cents a pack that would leave Chicago with the highest combined state and local tax in the nation.

The timing is not a coincidence.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair has called the tax increase a “life-saving measure” that will persuade kids — the “most price-sensitive consumers ever” — to quit smoking or avoid taking their first puff.

The crackdown on e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco products — and a $338,689 campaign about the dangers of menthol cigarettes featuring billboards and advertising on radio and TV — are all aimed at accomplishing the same thing.

“This is part of our overall strategy to address the impact of tobacco on youth. We’ve seen a decrease [in youth smoking], then a plateau. We really need to break that plateau,” Choucair said.

“We know that adolescent smokers use flavored products. That’s how Big Tobacco gets these kids addicted. They lure them in with these colorful packing and sweet flavors. They pick up these cigarettes, and that’s how they become lifelong addicts.”

Students in middle school and high school doubled their use of e-cigarettes between 2011 and 2012, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey. Three out of four e-cigarette users also smoke regular cigarettes. The largest chunk of menthol cigarette smokers are between the ages of 12 and 17, according to City Hall.

Email: fspielman@suntimes.com

Twitter: @fspielman



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