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Lightfoot and her most outspoken City Council critic both want action against e-cigarettes, vaping products

While the mayor is focused on the flavored nicotine products that some say target teens, Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) would go further; he wants a city ban on all e-cigarettes, flavored or not.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th).
Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) moved last fall to ban menthol-related tobacco products, accessories and liquor nicotine. Now, he wants to ban all electronic cigarettes and liquid nicotine products and replacement parts.
Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times

President Donald Trump has vowed to propose a federal ban on flavored e-cigarettes to combat a surge in vaping-related deaths and serious illnesses.

But Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), her most outspoken City Council critic, agree on one thing: They’re not about to sit around waiting for the Food and Drug Administration to draft the guidelines needed to yank products off the market that are tailor-made to lure young people into a lifetime of addiction.

During a news conference at Crane High School that included U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Lightfoot said she plans to propose a Chicago ban on flavored e-cigarettes “after we go through an engagement process” with community leaders.

Lopez wants broader action; he’s poised to propose a ban on all e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine products.

Lightfoot said she’s starting with flavored products because, as she put it, they serve as the “gateway in which children become addicted.”

“The companies that produce and market these products see children as part of their bottom line — as shameful as that is,” the mayor said.

“And I say this, both as a mayor and as a mother. We will not stand idly by as flavored tobacco becomes young peoples’ most common path to addiction . . . Children are using these products and becoming addicted and the companies are targeting them. We want to eliminate that possibility.”

Unlike the mayor, Lopez doesn’t have to worry about community engagement or the impact on border wards that stand to lose business if Chicagoans take their business to suburban stores.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Lopez plans to introduce a Chicago-only blanket ban that states: “No person shall sell, give away, barter, exchange or otherwise furnish to any other person any electronic cigarette, liquid nicotine product or any replacement part or accessory intended for an electronic cigarette.” Displays of those products would also be banned.

Violators could be fined up to $5,000 a day.

A lifelong smoker who has struggled for years to kick the habit, Lopez said it’s high-time for Chicago to take matters into its own hands.

Already, Illinois has 52 confirmed cases of vaping-related lung disease; 12 more cases are under investigation, and there is one reported death in the state.

“As someone who has smoked since he was 16 years old, I know very well the dangers of pushing this on young children. Menthol cigarettes in particular are something I’ve smoked since I was a teenager. Once you’re hooked, you’re hooked,” Lopez said.

“These were marketed as a way to curb smoking and it’s had the exact opposite effect. It’s reinvigorated a smoking culture among youth, among individuals who are not necessarily trying to quit. It’s harmful. It’s addictive. And it has to be stopped.”

Why not wait for Trump and the Food and Drug Administration to act?

“He’s [too often] failed to act on what he says. ... We can’t wait for the federal government to do anything. Chicago has to be a leader once again and do what it should do and ban these electronic cigarettes outright,” Lopez said.

JUUL Labs said the company supports “aggressive, category-wide action on flavored products,” but is categorically opposed to a Chicago ban.

“Full prohibition will drive former adult smokers who successfully switched to vapor products back to deadly cigarettes, deny the opportunity to switch for current adult smokers and create a thriving black market instead of addressing the actual causes of underage access and use,” said JUUL Labs spokesman Austin Finan.

Lopez announced his proposed Chicago ban nearly an hour before Lightfoot joined Durbin and Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson at the Crane news conference. He beat the mayor to the punch.

“I’ve used them. My husband has used them to try and stop smoking. They are costly. They are dangerous,” Lopez said.

“They’re filled with chemicals we’re not necessarily familiar with. The smoke that comes out of it comes out of what we would use for fog machines — and I wouldn’t recommend anyone go suck on a fog machine. Yet, we’re still pushing these cigarettes on people with flavors as an addictive cure for regular smoking. We need to just act and say, `Enough.’”

Last fall, Lopez proposed a citywide ban Wednesday on tobacco products, accessories and liquid nicotine with “a characterizing flavor of menthol.” That ordinance went nowhere.

Durbin said it was “encouraging” to see the president’s proposal to ban flavored cartridges, saying the federal government “finally woke up to the reality of the threat of vaping and e-cigarettes.”

The senator said he wants to keep up the pressure on lawmakers to prevent kids from getting hooked on vaping, and to prevent companies from marketing to children.

”You look at the flavors, these are designed to appeal to children, and they do. We’ve got to put an end to it,” Durbin said. “It’s the kind of thing that happened with big tobacco. It’s as phony as it comes.”

Contributing: Nader Issa