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Oak Park board approves e-cigarette restrictions, will encourage prevention programs for violators

Pioneer Press Newspapers - 10/9/2019

Oct. 9--During an Oct. 7 meeting, Oak Park village trustees aired a wide variety of concerns about aspects of a new law preventing the sale of flavored e-cigarette products to people under 21 years old. Though they agreed on banning youth under 21 from using such tobacco products, some thought it too overbearing to ban youth from possessing the tobacco products in question. However, the board ultimately voted 4-3 to do so.

Earlier this year, the village discussed a new ordinance which defines flavored tobacco products and prohibits their delivery and sale to persons under 21 years of age.

The ordinance also prohibits tobacco product advertising that is in view from any public sidewalk, and other measures in an effort to reduce tobacco use among young people. Sellers of the products are also prohibited from giving away or distributing any coupon or other price reduction instruments for any free or nominally priced tobacco product, flavored tobacco or tobacco accessory.

The new regulations were proposed by the village's board of health, and included two versions for trustees to consider Oct. 7. The board of health's version kept a ban on possession of tobacco products by minors, while the village's version did not.

In discussing the ordinances, some trustees expressed concerns that enforcement of the possession portion of the ordinance may wrongly target younger residents of color.

According to village staff, there have been 13 citations for underage possession of tobacco since 2014, with seven of those occurring that same year. There have been zero such citations issued so far this year.

Of those 13 tickets, police chief LaDon Reynolds said five were issued to Caucasians, one issued to someone of Hispanic/Latino descent and seven issued to African Americans.

"The racial makeup of our village isn't 50/50 white to black," trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla said. "This is why, when we talked about this at the first hearing, we don't want our black and brown kids stopped for purchase and possession of a tobacco product or a tobacco accessory. I am strongly against including the purchase and possession of tobacco products in this ordinance."

According to Reynolds, when an officer encounters a youth possessing tobacco, the police officer directs the youth to the village's adjudication process, which typically leads to attending an intervention program.

"Our primary focus is to redirect the trajectory of the behavior," Reynolds said. "I think the adjudication process helps us in doing that because it gives an objective party the opportunity to look at the facts of the case. In the history of modern policing, we've never arrested our way out of a problem. It is a ticket. It's against village ordinance. We're not handcuffing anybody and they're not getting into a squad car."

Kelly O'Connor, prevention services manager at Oak Park Township, said her organization's Face-it program focuses on the prevention of drug and alcohol abuse among younger residents. Should someone be in violation of the village ordinance, they may be referred to Face-it, officials said.

"We didn't want kids to just get in trouble," O'Connor said. "That doesn't do anyone any good and it doesn't do any good if they're suspended from school. The adjudication process changed a lot because a lot of our kids, when they got a citation, were sent to Maywood. We kept it home and offered the education and information program for parents to participate as well."

According to Connor, the program has helped more than 200 families since its implementation in 2010, and carries a low recidivism rate.

Walker-Peddakotla, however, said she was against having a youth go through the adjudication process for simply possessing or purchasing a tobacco product.

"It is still a part of the criminalization process," Walker-Peddakotla said. "Families that go through adjudication have to take time out of their day. I have a 17-year-old and, as a parent, I have a job to guide my child in the right direction. That is not the police's job. For many black and brown families, they fear interactions with the police, for good reason. I'm not saying anything negative about our police department, but they fear interactions with the police. We shouldn't be giving one more reason to cause trauma in our children."

Trustee Deno Andrews agreed, saying he would rather have police provide offenders with information about prevention programs as opposed to them having to go through local adjudication.

"I would say if it is illicit drugs it's one thing, but if it's vaping or smoking, it's another," Andrews said. "I don't think it's our job to police smoking and vaping. I'm sensitive to the number of kids doing this and the health risks, but I've said since day one, it's parents' jobs to raise their kids."

A motion to approve the new tobacco regulations without the purchase and possession language failed by a 4-3 vote, with Walker-Peddakotla, Andrews and Susan Buchanan voting in favor of it.

A second motion, to approve the new ordinance, which included language ordering those found to be in violation to "complete community-based education counseling or a treatment program" was approved by a 4-3 vote.

"I believe in the Face-it program," trustee Simone Boutet said. "I think referring people to prevention and intervening for positive outcomes is sort of our goal."

Trustees Boutet, Dan Moroney and Jim Taglia, as well as Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, voted yes for the ordinance that included the ban on possession and purchase of the product.


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