Statement from the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians
Santina Wheat, MD, MPH – IAFP board of directors
March 16, 2016

Family physicians in Chicago and across Illinois applaud the proposal to raise the purchase age to 21 to reduce nicotine addiction and tobacco use, especially among young people. We thank Mayor Emanuel and Aldermen Ed Burke and Joe Moreno for sponsoring this important legislation. We extend a second high-five to Ald. Burke for the proposal to take smokeless tobacco out of Chicago’s sports venues.

Family physicians care for many teenagers and young adults. We know that teens are still developing both physically and emotionally. Their brains are developing until their early 20's. This is a crucial period where important choices are made and habits are formed. Some of them are already parents, with children of their own to protect from second hand smoke!

This ordinance will have a profound positive effect among minority communities in Chicago, who have higher rates of lung cancer and heart disease. Our community must take a stand for the health of our young people.

National data shows that 95 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before they turn 21. The ages between 18 and 21 are also a time when many smokers move from experimental smoking to regular, daily use. Preventing tobacco use before it starts means we can reduce the risk of heart disease and lung cancer, and also lower the risk of birth defects caused by tobacco use in pregnancy.

If we raise the age to 21, and cut the supply to today’s young smokers, we must also be ready to provide them immediate help: in our practices, through the Tobacco Quitline and in community-based services. My family medicine and pediatric colleagues are ready to help them!

Illinois college campuses are already smoke free – so let’s send our students to college without a tobacco habit. All of these policies together will save lives and cut healthcare costs.

The tobacco industry has not given up on hooking our kids to be their future customers. We cannot give up the fight to keep tobacco away from our young people. Smoking rates are going down, but e-cigarettes are going up and smokeless tobacco remains a stubborn problem. The free exposure tobacco gets through professional athletes doesn’t help and Major League Baseball players haven’t taken the step themselves. Therefore, Chicago and other Major League cities need to step in and take action to protect our kids. San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles have already passed laws to make sports venues entirely tobacco-free.

Let us help today’s youth make the transition to tobacco-free adults and enjoy a healthier future. We are ready to help all of our patients quit tobacco for good! Family physicians support tobacco 21 and tobacco-free baseball, and we ask all of our Aldermen to vote yes to both proposals.

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IAFP Staff contact: Ginnie Flynn 630-427-8004 (office) 630-263-4613 (cell) gflynn@iafp.com