Naperville Commissioners hear pros, cons of upping tobacco buying age to 21

Posted: 9/13/2016

Naperville liquor commissioners Thursday delayed making a recommendation on raising the age to purchase tobacco within city limits to 21.

Instead, commissioners want to know how a similar law that went into effect July 1 in Chicago has played out so far and what their options might be in adopting such a law. The issue will be discussed again at the city's liquor commission Sept. 8 meeting.

Simon Hanna, owner of Exhale Hookah Lounge in Naperville, told the commission raising the age to 21 to buy or have tobacco would hurt his business. Patrons at his bar cannot purchase cigarettes or cigars, but customers do buy flavored tobacco to use at the lounge.

"Raising the smoking age would pretty much put us out of business," he said, noting his tobacco does not have as much nicotine as cigarettes.

Last month, liquor commissioners broached the idea of raising the smoking age from 18 to 21 after a Chicago ordinance increasing the age took effect. Like Chicago, Naperville can make its own laws regarding such sales, city attorney Kavita Athanikar said.

The liquor commission cannot enact the law, but can make a recommendation to the city council to either increase the age or leave it as is. City council members have final say.

Various advocacy groups Thursday spoke in favor of increasing the age, saying it could help curb smoking and prevent teens from starting the habit.

"Raising the tobacco age to 21 would keep tobacco out of schools," Matt Maloney, director of health policy for the Respiratory Health Association said.

Increasing the age to purchase tobacco has drawn mixed reviews from commissioners.

Commissioner Chuck Maher has said he would have a hard time denying cigarettes to a returning soldier under the age of 21. He and others also argued raising the age would largely be a symbolic move as neighboring communities do not have such bans and teens could go there to purchase cigarettes instead.

Supporters agreed increasing the age may be symbolic, but added that at a minimum it would make it inconvenient for teens to purchase tobacco.

"The bottom line is smoking is not healthy," Commissioner James Ostrenga said. "If there's anything we can do to make it more difficult for people to make a bad decision, I think it's a step forward for the health of our community."

Alicia Fabbre is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.