Mayoral ally proposes Chicago ban on flavored tobacco products

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) plans to introduce the ban at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. He cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed a surge in electronic cigarette use among high school students — from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 27.5 percent in 2019.

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Camel’s flavored cigarette flavors include (from right) Mandarin Mint, Izmar Stinger, Twist, and Creamy Mellow Mint. Anti-smoking groups say tobacco companies are targeting the youth market by offering flavored cigarettes.

Camel’s flavored cigarette flavors include (from right) Mandarin Mint, Izmar Stinger, Twist, and Creamy Mellow Mint. Anti-smoking groups say tobacco companies are targeting the youth market by offering flavored cigarettes.

AP file

Citing the “link between respiratory issues and COVID-19,” an influential alderman wants Chicago to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products used to lure young people into a lifetime of addiction.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), one of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s closest City Council allies, said he plans to introduce the ban at Wednesday’s City Council meeting with support from “the mayor’s leadership team.”

“The recent statistics that I saw were alarming — especially when you see the intersection of pulmonary lung issues and COVID-19. It’s time we had this discussion. This is about saving young lives,” O’Shea told the Sun-Times.

“Flavored tobacco is a real problem in every community for young children and teens. Anything we can do to save people from a later life problem of pulmonary issues, cancer and other disease attributable to tobacco, we should do here.”

In an email to his constituents,O’Shea cited data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed a surge in electronic cigarette use among high school students — from 1.5% in 2011 to 27.5% in 2019.

Even more alarming: 67% of high school students using tobacco products “reported using a flavored tobacco product in the past 30 days,” the alderman wrote.

“Despite many regulations designed to keep tobacco products out of the hands of children, flavors like Loopy Pebbles, Fuji Apple, Strawberry Nectarine, Mango Cheesecake, Strawberry Churro Ice Cream, Watermelon Gummy, Orange Cream Supreme, Lucky Charms, Blueberry Cereal, I Love Cookies, and Milky Shake are readily available in Chicago,” O’Shea wrote.

“These products clearly target children and create a new generation of tobacco consumers.”

Nine months ago, Lightfoot joined U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) at a news conference at Crane High School and declared her intention to propose a Chicago ban on flavored e-cigarettes, but only after a “thorough engagement process” with community leaders.

Flavored vaping products containing nicotine target teens, some critics say.

Vaping products come in many flavors that critics say target a younger audience.

AFP/Getty Images

Lightfoot said then she was unwilling to wait for President Donald Trump to follow through on his threat to propose a federal ban on flavored e-cigarettes. She said she was starting with flavored products in Chicago because they serve as what she called a “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.”

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JUUL Labs responded by saying 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 said then.

Lightfoot never followed through on her threat to introduce a Chicago ban on flavored e-cigarettes. Nor has there been any “thorough engagement process” with community leaders.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), the mayor’s most outspoken City Council critic, introduced a ban on all e-cigarettes — flavored or not. But the ordinance has languished in committee.

On Tuesday, Lopez likened O’Shea’s proposal to ban only the sale of flavored tobacco products as “putting our toes in the lake without fully jumping in.”

“We need to fully ban e-cigarettes because menthol is a flavor. Natural is a flavor. There is such thing as a natural e-cigarette. Everything is flavored to be chemically stimulating,” Lopez said.

“To target only a few of these products will open us up to possible lawsuits because we’re not treating all products equally.”

If his more sweeping ban had been considered months ago, Lopez said it “probably could have alleviated many of the COVID-linked illnesses we’ve seen in Chicago.”

Lopez couldn’t resist a jab at his political nemesis for failing to follow through.

“Once again, we have seen this example of Mayor Lightfoot speaking and promising to act, but failing to do so,” he said.


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