Illinois becomes 1st state in Midwest to raise tobacco age to 21
A new state law prohibits Illinois store owners from selling tobacco products and e-cigarettes to residents under the age of 21.
Illinoisans must be 21 or older to buy tobacco and e-cigarette products, after a new state law took effect July 1.
While the law reduces penalties for underage possession of tobacco products, it imposes stricter penalties on store owners who fail to comply with the new age restrictions.
The Tobacco 21 movement, a project of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, advocates for measures to tighten age restrictions on tobacco purchases across the country. Prior to the new statewide law, 28 municipalities in Illinois had raised the tobacco age to 21 over the last five years, according to the organization. The city of Evanston became the first to do so in 2014.
The goal of the law is to discourage nicotine use among younger adults, reasoning that they will be less likely to begin consuming tobacco products at age 21. Supporters say the law will improve public health and potentially reduce health care costs.
Tobacco use in Illinois is already below the national average, according to the United Health Foundation. Less than 16% of Illinois adults use tobacco, the 15th-lowest smoking rate in the nation.
Former Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a previous Tobacco 21 bill in 2018, arguing in his veto message that it would negatively impact small businesses.
Business owners worry about losing reliable revenue, as tobacco and e-cigarettes have remained standard convenience stores items. According to The Center Square, the new age restrictions could cost members of the Illinois Association of Convenience Stores up to $20 million.
None of Illinois’ neighboring states have a tobacco purchasing age as high as 21. Illinoisans near the state border who are younger than 21 but older than 18 can easily travel to other states to buy cigarettes.
Accompanying the new age restrictions was a $1 increase in the state’s tobacco tax that took effect July 1. Illinois’ high cigarette taxes already drive consumers across state lines. The new tax hike will only further encourage tobacco users to make their purchases in other states, meaning more lost revenue for Illinois.
In 2018, the Illinois Department of Revenue estimated the state could lose $41 million to $48 million in revenue by raising the legal tobacco age to 21.
The new age restrictions coupled with higher cigarette taxes could also incentivize illegal purchasing and smuggling of tobacco across state lines. According to a 2009 report from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, “The incentive to profit by evading payment of taxes rises with each tax rate hike.”
The number of adults who smoke has fallen sharply since 1990, a trend state leaders should embrace. But giving Illinoisans more reasons to spend their money elsewhere is one habit lawmakers should consider kicking.