Smoking Rates Drop in Young Adults Following Tobacco 21 Law, City Says

A rule change on who is allowed to buy tobacco products appears to be having an impact.

On July 1, 2016, the minimum age to purchase tobacco products in Chicago was increased to 21. Since then, fewer young adults in the city are smoking.

That’s according to data from a newly released city survey, conducted just months after the law’s implementation. Called the Healthy Chicago Survey, roughly 2,000 city residents were asked via telephone about their health behaviors and access to health care, among other things.

The December 2016 survey found that 9.7 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds reported smoking. In 2015, that figure was 15.2 percent.

While city officials anticipated the rule change would have an impact, they didn’t expect it so quickly following the law’s implementation.

“Tobacco 21 was created to prevent young people from taking up smoking in the first place, helping more Chicagoans live longer, healthier lives – and it looks like it’s working,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a press release.

“We’re thrilled to see the smoking rates drop so dramatically,” said Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Julie Morita. “It’s remarkable because if you look at other age groups they didn’t have that same reduction in rates.”

“The whole point of Tobacco 21 is to keep young people from picking up the habit. Recognizing that young people are particularly susceptible to the effects of nicotine, we are creating obstacles to access,” Morita said. “We know the less accessible tobacco is to youth, the less likely they’re going to smoke and that’ll lead to fewer people smoking in adulthood.”

In addition to the tobacco law, city officials have increased city taxes on tobacco. Together with the county and state taxes, Chicago has the highest cigarette tax in the nation at $7.17 – just in taxes, Morita said.

“Most of the time we’re not celebrating high taxes, but because we know that young people are so price sensitive and they don’t have disposable income, [cigarettes] are so expensive that they don’t purchase them.”

The city has also expanded smoke-free environments to all city parks, beaches and marinas, as well as more public housing, hospitals and college campuses. 

“Every effort the city has implemented is to make more difficult to for youth to smoke,” Morita said. “Our goal is to have a tobacco-free generation for the city.”

Contact Kristen Thometz: @kristenthometz kthometz@wttw.com | (773) 509-5452


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