Illinois lawmakers pass bill raising legal age of tobacco, e-cigarette purchases to 21

Illinois lawmakers pass bill raising legal age of tobacco, e-cigarette purchases to 21

Pending the governor’s signature, the bill would expand Chicago’s smoking age restriction statewide.

A measure raising the legal age to purchase and consume tobacco products will proceed to the governor’s desk.

Lawmakers in the Illinois House of Representatives voted to advance Senate Bill 2332 by a 61-49 margin, with one lawmaker voting “present.” If signed into law, the bill would raise the current legal smoking age to 21 from 18 statewide – but it wouldn’t just apply to tobacco.

In addition to tobacco, items prohibited under the bill would include alternative nicotine products and electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes.” The latter is defined by the bill to encompass “any electronic nicotine delivery system, electronic cigar, electronic cigarillo, electronic pipe, electronic hookah, vape pen, or similar product or device.”

Filed Jan. 24 by state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, the initiative is part of a nationwide movement known as “Tobacco 21.” This effort previously took hold in Evanston, which raised the legal age of tobacco use to 21 in 2014. And the city of Chicago adopted the measure citywide in 2016.

In September 2017, Lake County became the first governing body in Illinois to implement the Tobacco 21 ordinance countywide.

The introduction of SB 2332 on the momentum of the Tobacco 21 movement might suggest a smoking epidemic among young adults in Illinois. But data hint the opposite is occurring.

Smoking has hit rock bottom in terms of consumption. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette use per capita has fallen to a record low nationwide, having declined by over 60 percent between 1965-2014. This reflects trends in Illinois. The Land of Lincoln has the second-lowest rate of adult cigarette consumption in the Midwest as of 2017, according to the United Health Foundation, or UHF. Less than 16 percent of Illinois adults smoked cigarettes as of 2017 – down from a rate of nearly 21 percent in 2012.

This perhaps can explain why cigarette tax revenue in Illinois has continually fallen short of projections, despite the fact that the state boasts the fourth-highest cigarette tax in the Midwest. Combined cigarette taxes at the federal, state, county and city level make Chicago’s cigarette taxes the highest in the nation.

A fiscal note prepared by the Department of Revenue estimated the new age restriction would decrease cigarette tax revenue by $35 million to $40 million per fiscal year and decrease sales tax revenue by $6 million to $8 million.

The nonpartisan Tax Foundation attributes the unreliability of cigarette tax revenue in part to the overall decline in cigarette use – a trend that long predates Illinois’ existing Tobacco 21 ordinances. UHF smoking data also show Missouri experiencing a drop in regular smokers from 2012-2017, despite having the lowest cigarette tax in the country.

With cigarette use falling out of public favor, it may make little sense to commit time and resources to the enforcement of regulations SB 2332 would impose. Given Springfield’s spotty budgeting record in recent years, lawmakers would be wise to spend the session’s remaining hours drafting a balanced budget and breaking some bad habits of their own.

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