After hours of back and forth negotiations Monday, Chicago aldermen advanced a new plan to relax the city’s ban on flavored tobacco sales near school buildings and raise the age to sell tobacco products.
Some aldermen said they have been hearing from many local store owners and business advocates who say the current law — which bans tobacco sales within 500 feet of any public, private or parochial school — hurts businesses and has forced layoffs.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th Ward, said the rules have also lead to an increase in the illegal sale of loose cigarettes, which are sometimes called “loosies.”
“I’ve had murders because of loose cigarette sales,” Sawyer said. “I have gang involvement now that stopped selling drugs. Now they’re selling loose cigarettes because it’s just as profitable. The consequences aren’t as harsh.”
The new ordinance would only allow people 21 years old and over to sell tobacco products in Chicago. Retailers are still allowed to hire employees under 21 so long as they have “no duties relating to the sale, dispensing, service or delivery of tobacco products.”
The proposal also rolls back part of the flavored tobacco ban for stores that are close to an elementary or middle school. But stores within 500 feet of a high school still won’t be able to sell flavored tobacco products. The original ban passed the City Council in 2013.
Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th Ward, said even though she is a smoker, she never wants to see anyone else pick up the “horrible” habit.
But she argued that since tobacco is legal, banning it in certain places is “discriminating against a group of people that have a certain preference for a legal product.”
The proposed changes were approved by the City Council’s Finance Committee and now head to the full council for a final vote.
The mayor’s office called the proposal a “fair compromise with aldermen on issues important to their communities, while preventing any setback on the progress we’ve made in protecting youth from tobacco use.”
Earlier this year, aldermen voted to raise the age for purchasing cigarettes from 18 to 21 and ban chewing tobacco at sporting events, including major league stadiums like Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field.
The council has also cracked down on e-cigarette smoking. In 2014, the council passed an ordinance that prohibited e-cigarettes anywhere that already prohibits smoking.
Lauren Chooljian covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her at @laurenchooljian.