Illinois - underage smokers face stiff penalities..

August 24, 2009 - Illinois (IL) Governor Pat Quinn signed State Representative Ronald Wait’s underage smoking billion on August 11, 2009 making it illegal for minors under the age of 18 to possess any cigar, cigarette, smokeless tobacco or other tobacco product.

“This law makes sense,” Wait said. “For years it has been illegal for minors to purchase tobacco, yet they can possess it without any repercussions. Common sense tells us if we don’t want our kids to use tobacco, then we should not let them have tobacco.”

The new public act establishes a multi-tiered system which addresses the violation through a combination of service, education and fee requirements. The first offense is $25 or 15 hours of community service; second offense, $50 and 25 hours of community service; third offense, $100 fine and 30 hours of community service.

Any second or subsequent violations not within the 12 month time period following the first violation are punishable as a first violation. A minor and his or her guardian can be ordered to attend a smoker’s education or youth diversion program if that program is available in the offender’s jurisdiction. Offenders will be required to remit a fee for their attendance at a smoker’s education or youth diversion program.

“The great thing about this new law is it not only punishes underage tobacco use, but it also educates as well,” Wait said. “As a former teacher I understand that educating children about the consequences of tobacco use is just as essential as the punishment.

The state’s new law, however, pales in comparison to the fee structure voted on by the South Beloit City, IL Council. South Beloit Police Chief Tom Fearn explained how a new smoking ordinance is in the works which will charge $100 for the first offense; $250, second offense; and $500, third offense. Fearn said the ordinance was passed, but the fee structure is being put in place by the city attorney.

Because municipalities can make ordinances stricter than state laws, South Beloit’s fee structure will trump the state’s fee structure. Although the fees could end up being partially paid by parents, Fearn said the fee structure is a deterrent and requires parental responsibility. If underage smokers can’t pay the fines, Fearn said arrangements can be made for community service. However, underage smoking hasn’t been a huge issue in South Beloit. In 2008, the South Beloit police gave out 10 citations and in 2007 it gave out 13 citations. So far this year they have given out four citations.

Rockton’s fee structure for a minor in possession of tobacco is similar to the states, with a $25 fee for the first offense which doubles with subsequent offenses. He said some kids who have racked up high fees from subsequent offenses have been allowed to do community service work. “Our intent is not to punish the parents,” Dickson said. Rockton Police Chief Dickson said only 28 tickets were written for underage possession of tobacco last year. Dickson said the Rockton Police have been enforcing the smoking ordinance since the early 1990s.

Roscoe Police Chief Jamie Evans said the village hasn’t had a smoking ordinance in the past, and that the state’s new law [enables] the village to adopt the new ordinance and crack down on underage smoking.

Reference: Teens and tobacco don’t mix in Illinois by Hillary Gavan, BDN Connection, 8/22/2009.

Related news brief: Why NOT make it illegal for kids to smoke??.