Illinois lawmakers rekindle efforts to raise tobacco purchase age to 21

Illinois lawmakers rekindle efforts to raise tobacco purchase age to 21

Lawmakers in the Illinois House of Representatives failed to override former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of the “Tobacco 21” bill in November. Gov. Pritzker’s administration has signaled support.

A bill in 2018 that would have raised Illinois’ legal tobacco purchase age to 21 died on former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk. But some lawmakers in Springfield have already started to revive the effort.

Lawmakers have filed so-called “Tobacco 21” bills in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly – House Bill 345  and Senate Bill 21 – both of which would raise to 21 the legal age at which Illinoisans could purchase not just tobacco products, but e-cigarette, or “vape,” products.

The Tobacco 21 movement, a project of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, advocates for similar measures to tighten age restrictions on tobacco purchases across the country. Six states and more than 330 cities nationwide have adopted Tobacco 21 restrictions, according to the organization.

Rauner vetoed the last Tobacco 21 proposal in August 2018, arguing in his veto message that the bill was unlikely to prevent children from smoking, while needlessly harming small businesses. The Illinois Senate voted to override Rauner’s veto in November, but that effort stalled in the House.

Advocates of Tobacco 21 are more optimistic this this year, anticipating Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration will view their efforts more favorably, the Rockford Register Star reports. Pritzker “looks forward to reviewing the legislation,” according to spokesperson Jordan Abudayyeh.

Matt Maloney, the Respiratory Health Association’s director of health policy, said Tobacco 21 is “good for (people’s) health, it saves lives and saves money.” 

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 agency collected more than $745.5 million in cigarette tax revenue in 2018, the Star reported.

In October 2014, the suburb of Evanston enacted the first Tobacco 21 ordinance in Illinois, with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel following suit in 2016. Twenty-eight Illinois municipalities have implemented local Tobacco 21 ordinances, according to the organization. In September 2017, Lake County became the first in Illinois to implement the Tobacco 21 ordinance at the county level. Six states have adopted the measure statewide.

The momentum of the Tobacco 21 movement might suggest a smoking epidemic among young adults in Illinois. The opposite is true: Illinois has the third-lowest rate of adult cigarette consumption in the Midwest as of 2018, according to the United Health Foundation. Fewer than 16 percent of Illinois adults smoked cigarettes as of 2018 – down from a rate of more than 21 percent in 2012.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette use per capita fell 74 percent in the U.S. between 1966 and 2015. Adults smoked about 4,200 cigarettes on average, but now it is about 1,000 cigarettes a year.

With the general public kicking smoking habits by themselves, an additional law such as this may not be needed. Illinois is one of the most paternalistic states in the country, according to at least one study. Nonetheless, smoking costs lives, and its falling popularity is an encouraging development for Illinoisans.

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