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Local Editorials

SHAW MEDIA EDITORIAL: Let local leaders, not Legislature, set smoking age

Some Illinois communities have raised the legal smoking age from 18 to 21. Now the Legislature wants to raise it statewide. Lawmakers should let local people govern themselves and determine the climate in their own communities.

Not every problem can be solved through legislation. This notion might come as a shock to some folks in Springfield, but it’s true: Sometimes the government has to understand its limits.

Recently, a plan to raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 stalled in the Illinois House. Senate Bill 2332 isn’t all the way dead, having been pulled from consideration after appearing to come a few votes shy, but it won’t be going away for good any time soon.

Already 14 government jurisdictions in Illinois – including Chicago – have adopted ordinances imposing the age 21 limit. This on top of laws that ban indoor smoking almost everywhere in the state, as well as policies keeping tobacco away from public schools. Yet those limitations aren’t enough for some lawmakers.

Here’s the thing: Smoking isn’t great. It basically poisons the person doing it and endangers those nearby. It’s dirty and smelly and, every so often, contributes to an accidental fire. But it’s also legal – so long as you follow the where and when rules – so it’s very difficult to accept an argument that a person old enough to enlist in the military and vote is yet too young to light up should they so choose.

Yes, the drinking age is 21. But alcohol affects the human brain in a much different fashion than tobacco, and its use can be much more easily linked to much more immediately dangerous outcomes. Tobacco is a personal choice.

The 2008 indoor smoking ban did great things in the name of public health to limit the effects of that personal choice on people who don’t want to be exposed to secondhand smoke, so much so that upping the legal age a decade later won’t be able to have a demonstrable effect.

We agree it’s not wise to promote addiction. But allowing a behavior is not the same as promoting abuse of such behavior, and proponents have yet to prove the state is guilty of something here that must be corrected. To allow Illinoisans to begin their tobacco addictions at age 21 instead of age 18 reveals a larger concern for the taxes tobacco generates than the health of those who inhale.

Failing that, they should accept the existing conditions allowing a city or county to enact its own smoking ages or other more stringent rules than the state’s already stern guidelines.

As noted, some communities already have done so per that prerogative. Springfield bristles when Washington, D.C., forces its hands on a policy issue, but it often seems there’s not enough folks in the statehouse who understand how the rest of Illinois feels when they strip local control via statewide edict.

This editorial should not be construed as an endorsement of smoking. Rather, it is a call to let us govern ourselves and determine the climate in our own communities.

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