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Our View: An idea that should be snuffed out

Updated: May 29, 2013 7:46AM



The growing ranks of governmental nannies suggest that Chicago raise the legal age limit to smoke tobacco to 21. We can’t oppose the health considerations behind the idea, but it’s a pipe dream unless the prohibition is statewide, and even then it’s doubtful it could have much impact.

A statewide ban, which we envision having no chance of passing the Legislature if proposed, would cause even more young adults to hotfoot across the border to other states — not only to buy cheaper cigarettes as they do now but to smoke them there.

Setting an age limit on smoking in Chicago just won’t work. It would create Tobacco Rows, shops just outside the city similar to those you now see in Will County areas that border Cook County. Police have more important crime to focus on than underage smoking. And do we really want to tell older teens that they can vote and fight for their country but can’t have a cigarette?

How do you balance the relative benefits of freedom and willfully self-destructive choices? For some officials in Chicago and New York City, the answer is clear — we must protect the public from itself.

The cities seem to be staging a friendly competition about which one can ban more substances. A mayoral candidate in New York City proposed last Monday prohibiting smoking for those under 21, and hours later Chicago Ald. George Cardenas (12th) suggested the same.

Cardenas also wants anyone under 21 banned from buying high-energy drinks. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried unsuccessfully to eliminate the sale of giant soft drinks.

The need to lower the legal smoking age is further lessened by statistics on teen smoking. The last federal assessment showed that about 10 percent of teens ever smoke and the number has steadily declined since the 1990s.

Fortunately, there’s much evidence that teens can be deterred from smoking, and their health protected, through awareness programs and a venerable government strategy we know well in Illinois — taxing tobacco so heavily they can’t afford it. We hate to justify a high tax, but that’s better than an ill-advised ban on selling cigarettes to those under 21.



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