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City snuffs out sales of menthol cigarettes near schools

Updated: December 11, 2013 12:47PM

The City Council agreed Wednesday to snuff out the sale of menthol and flavored tobacco products within 500 feet Chicago schools — five times the existing radius — to curb teen turn smoking.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was forced to settle for the lesser of two ordinances tailor-made to curtail the sale of two gateway products used to lure teenagers into a lifetime addiction to smoking.

Chicago already bans the sale of menthol and flavored cigarettes within 100 feet of schools. The new ordinance, approved by a vote of 48-2 quintuples that protective bubble.

During Wednesday’s abbreviated debate, Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), the City Council’s leading anti-smoking crusader, noted that the growing popularity of menthol and flavored tobacco products have stymied the effort to curb teen smoking.

Burke accused “Big Tobacco” of marketing flavors like “Gummy Bear” to kids in general and minority teens in particular.

“We should support this ordinance because it will help reduce teen smoking,” Burke said.

After announcing the vote, Emanuel seemed incredulous that there were even two dissenting votes.

“What do you want — 200 feet, 300 feet?..I respect those who voted `no,’ but it’s a no-brainer for me,” the mayor said.

“Five hundred feet from a school to our children and a lifetime of public health problems? Marketing to children to in an attempt to have them become addicts? Kids sometimes don’t have the judgment that we as adults have to show.”

The mayor then warned aldermen to brace themselves for an onslaught from high-powered lobbyists hired by Big Tobacco.

“They’re coming to Chicago to hire people to work you over, just like they did in Congress. This is a time for moral courage,” the mayor said.

A surprise outpouring of aldermanic opposition has temporarily derailed the mayor’s plan to regulate e-cigarettes as “tobacco products” subject to Chicago’s smoking ban.

That would have moved them behind the counter of retail stores, banned the sale to minors, prohibited adults from smoking e-cigarettes in virtually all of indoor Chicago and empowered the city to license e-cigarette dealers.

Aldermen from across the city have questioned whether the vapors from e-cigarettes are any more dangerous to bystanders than a humidifier, a cup of tea or a pot full of boiling water used to cook pasta.

They further argued that the ban would discourage smokers from using e-cigarettes to kick the habit.

Earlier this week, Emanuel tried to resurrect the stalled e-cigarette ordinance by framing it as a fight for kids against Big Tobacco and its high-powered, money-wielding lobbyists.

“What’s happening in this building right now — I saw it when President Clinton did it and when President Obama signed the law and we had to fight the Big Tobacco companies. They’re going to start hiring all the lobbyists. Right downstairs. They’re going to start coming in and out of this building. Well, I want to know who’s going to be the lobbyist for children. Because right now, it’s me and [Health Commissioner] Dr. [Bechara] Choucair,” the mayor said.

“This vote is about who’s going to stand up for kids. Who’s not going to be lured by the money. ... If you think e-cigarettes are part of quitting as an adult, OK. But we’re talking about: don’t let kids get started on e-cigarettes. ... We’re talking about our children here. Keep your hands off of them.”


Twitter: @fspielman

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