In a vote devoid of controversy or debate, the Human Services Committee voted on Oct. 6 to recommend to full Council that the City increase the legal age at which a customer can purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. The move is designed to make it illegal for any high school student to purchase or possess cigarettes at Evanston Township High School.

The matter will now go to full Council, where easy passage is expected.

Dr. Don Zeigler, a doctor of preventative medicine at University of Illinois-Chicago and Rush and an Evanston resident, said that “95% of smokers begin [smoking] before they are 21.” He referenced other communities and the results they have obtained after passing a similar age restriction. Needham, Massachusetts, he said, cut high school smoking in half after raising the tobacco purchase age to 21.

At ETHS, Dr. Zeigler said, 15% to 21% of students still “use highly addictive tobacco products.” If Evanston acts to pass this ordinance, he said, “The rest of the state of Illinois will follow.”

Dr. Tim Sanborn of NorthShore University HealthSystem said, “This age group [18 to 21] is particularly susceptible to tobacco and nicotine addiction.” Fears of loss of business have proven to be unfounded, he said, citing the 33 communities in Massachusetts that have passed similar laws. Not a single market has gone out of business there, he said.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, began her comments by saying she had “serious reservations” about taking choice away from her high school children, then quickly added, “I’m kidding!” She cited the decision by CVS to stop selling tobacco products entirely as an indicator that businesses can survive, even thrive, without selling tobacco and said, “Perhaps we can take this step, too.”