CHICAGO (CBS) -- Aldermen have approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel's latest push to cut down on tobacco use, by raising the smoking age in Chicago to 21, and banning chewing tobacco at ballparks and other sports arenas.
Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Julie Morita was among the anti-smoking advocates who strongly supported following the lead of cities like Boston, New York, Cleveland, and north suburban Evanston. California lawmakers also recently passed legislation raising that state's smoking age to 21.
In addition to the higher smoking age, the Chicago City Council also approved the mayor's plan for higher taxes on non-cigarette tobacco products, a ban on smokeless tobacco at all professional and amateur sports stadiums in Chicago, and a prohibition on tobacco coupons and discounts.
"Today, we're about to be one step closer to creating Chicago's first tobacco-free generation, where countless children throughout Chicago have the opportunity to have a life free from addiction and from a destructive habit that will shorten their lives," Morita said.
Joel Africk, president and CEO of the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, said in the 10 years since the City Council approved a public smoking ban for Chicago, thousands of lives have been saved.
He applauded the move to raise the city's smoking age and increase taxes on tobacco products other than cigarettes, which already have the highest tax rate of any city in the U.S.
"These laws do not criminalize smoking for those who are under 21. Our focus is on Big Tobacco. Our focus is on the retailers. Our focus is on what we can do so that law-abiding people will not smoke ," Africk said.
The Illinois Retail Merchants Association said the higher taxes will continue to drive customers away from the city, and hurt small businesses.
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