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Elmhurst City Council expected to add e-cigarettes to tobacco ordinance

ELMHURST – Following the likely passage of an amendment at the April 2 Elmhurst City Council meeting, an ordinance regulating tobacco products in Elmhurst would include e-cigarettes.

The related report, which came from the Public Affairs and Safety Committee's March 12 meeting, was passed with a unanimous, 12-0 vote at the March 19 City Council meeting, with aldermen Bob Dunn and Mark Sabatino absent.

Illinois passed a law in 2016 to further prohibit the sale, use and possession of alternative nicotine products by minors, according to the report. As defined, these products do not consist of or contain tobacco, but they provide for the ingestion of nicotine by chewing, smoking, absorbing, dissolving, inhaling, snorting, sniffing or other means.

Currently, Elmhurst's municipal code does not regulate alternative nicotine products or tobacco accessories as current state statute does, the report stated.

The recommendation to the City Council is to regulate these products and accessories as the city currently does for tobacco products.

"Updating the ordinance creates an equal playing field so that sale or use of tobacco products by a minor will be treated the same exact way as sale or use of vaping devices by a minor. ... Instead of having two separate ways to handle these violations with different enforcement and different penalties, the way the ordinance has been constructed handles them the same way," Elmhurst Deputy Police Chief Mike McLean said in a phone interview March 28.

Theoretically, if Elmhurst does not update the ordinance, someone who sells cigarettes to a minor would be treated differently from a person who sold an e-cigarette to a minor, as with possession of tobacco versus a vaping device, McLean said.

Currently, if an Elmhurst police officer were to find a minor in possession of an e-cigarette that was found to be sold by a store in Elmhurst, the officer would have to write a state violation ticket, which would go to DuPage County Circuit Court because Elmhurst would have to default to enforcing the state law, whereas a local ordinance citation can be issued for a tobacco cigarette, and penalties would be handled locally because Elmhurst has a local ordinance, McLean said.

"It doesn't prevent an officer from enforcing the state law," he said. "It just creates a local tool for the city of Elmhurst to enforce regulations related to e-cigarettes."

Local law enforcement can make that decision of whether the incident is best handled as a state criminal violation or a local civil violation, McLean said.

"We try to handle cases involving juveniles in the most appropriate way that we can find to restore justice and have the juvenile be rehabilitated without criminal penalties," he said. "Juveniles are presumed to be people that need simply to be given the guidance to not commit further violations, but also, we don't want to stigmatize juveniles and give them consequences that may impact their ability to have positive outcomes and positive futures."

The case also can be handled through Elmhurst's juvenile peer jury program in which juveniles might perform service to benefit the community, McLean said.

"With juvenile violations, we're simply almost like a good parent, trying to teach them a valuable lesson but not impose an undue criminal consequence on them," he said. "So by handling these things locally, we gain the ability to do these things in a local fashion versus writing a state violation charge that goes to DuPage County court."

Alderman Mike Brennan, who is on the Finance, Council Affairs and Administrative Services Committee, pulled the proposed amendment from the consent agenda at the March 19 meeting to call attention to the issue of vaping.

"For some reason, many of our youth look at vaping pens and e-cigarettes as a cool thing, a cleaner way to get a nicotine fix, when in reality vaping can lead to more extreme risk-taking behaviors when it comes to substance use and abuse," Brennan said. "So I'm in full support of this report and want to thank the committee for bringing it forward."

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