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City Council requires warning signs about non-cigarette tobacco products

An e-cigarette smoker. | AP file photo

If Chicago teenagers succumb to the lure of e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and other tobacco products aside from cigarettes, it won’t be because they didn’t know about the health risks. It’ll be because they ignored those warnings.

The City Council made certain of it Wednesday, by requiring health risk warning signs to be posted “somewhere visible at each public entrance” to all tobacco dealers.

The ordinance adds yet another chapter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s life-long crusade against Big Tobacco.

“They should keep their hands off our kids. I don’t want their products near our kids,” Emanuel said after the meeting.

The warning signs will be designed by the Chicago Department of Public Health and downloaded from its website to make it easier for businesses to comply.

They will contain “factual information” about the health risks posed by e-cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, smokeless tobacco and other tobacco products that do not include cigarettes. The signs will also include a number users can call for help kicking the tobacco habit.

Emanuel said the warning signs “build off” the city’s previous ban on e-cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited.

“Tobacco companies are doing exactly what we thought they were doing and suspected. It was never meant as a cessation device. It was meant to hook kids on nicotine,” he said.

“They put up a camouflage that this was all about cessation when, in fact, it was always about addiction….And I just want you to know … there’ll be other things we’re exploring to continue to make sure that our kids are safe from a lifetime of smoking, which means they have a lifetime improvement on their health.”

Vaping among youth rises as e-cigarette advertising grows, says Centers for Disease Control

Emanuel talks about creating a “smoke-free generation” in Chicago and teen smoking has dropped from 13.6 percent when the mayor took office in 2011 to 6 percent today.

But, he said, “While teen smoking is down, e-cigarette usage is starting to creep up.”

Public Health Commissioner Dr. Julie Morita blamed the blissful ignorance of youth.

“Kids have the sense that cigars, cigarillos, e-cigarettes, the flavored tobacco is less dangerous and is safe to use. And we can’t have them believing that,” Morita said. “We can’t stand idly by while tobacco companies lure a new generation of youth with novel products and ever-changing marketing practices.”

The warning signs will also be required at Chicago vaping shops. The commissioner urged parents to look out for what she called the latest vaping trend among teenagers — small products called ‘jewels’ or ‘fixes.’

“They’re like the size of a flash drive. Kids can carry them around easily. They can hide them. There’s reports about kids using them in school settings because people don’t see them,” Morita said.

The mayor’s ordinance also closes a legal loophole that allowed Big Tobacco to distribute free samples at “qualified adult facilities.”

But that provision likely will have limited impact; federal law already prohibits much of the free handouts Big Tobacco uses to lure young people into a lifetime of nicotine addiction.

Emanuel has crusaded against smoking for much of his professional life. It’s personal.

“You know about what I witnessed with my mother being addicted to nicotine,” he said.

Locally, those efforts have included: imposing the nation’s highest cigarette tax; banning e-cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited; moving them behind the counter of retail stores; banning the sale of flavored tobacco products within 500 feet of schools; and taxing e-cigarettes.

The City Council also has: raised Chicago’s smoking age to 21, slapped a $6 million tax on cigars, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco, and banned coupons and discounts that can lure teens to take up cigarettes.

Emanuel salvaged the higher smoking age only after cracking the whip on illegal tobacco sales in an apparent attempt to appease African-American aldermen concerned about the illegal sale of single cigarettes, known as “loosies.”