Rauner vetoes smoking ban for Illinoisans under 21
Chicago’s legal smoking age of 21 would have been expanded statewide under the proposal.
An effort to raise the legal purchasing age for tobacco and similar products to 21 from 18 went up in smoke Aug. 24 with Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of Senate Bill 2332.
The bill, known as “Tobacco 21,” arose from the nationwide movement with which it shares a name. The Tobacco 21 campaign, a project of Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, advocates for similar measures to tighten age restrictions on tobacco purchases across the country.
But SB 2332, filed Jan. 24 by state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, would have raised the legal purchasing age on more than just tobacco products. Other items restricted under the bill would have included 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.”
Tobacco 21 has received the support of health lobby groups such as the American Medical Association and the American Lung Association, that latter of which criticized Rauner’s veto of SB 2332, arguing the governor had “failed the children of Illinois.”
Age restrictions proposed by SB 2332, however, would have applied to Illinoisans between ages 18 and 20, all of whom are legally recognized as adults.
State Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, a critic of Tobacco 21, explained to the Lincolnshire Review in June his reluctance to selectively “fence off adulthood” for young adults between ages 18 and 20. “I’m loath to draw a new line that says, ‘You’re old enough and mature enough to decide who will become president, but you’re not old enough to purchase tobacco products.’” McConchie said.
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-two Illinois municipalities have implemented local Tobacco 21 ordinances, according to the organization. Six states have adopted the measure statewide.
The momentum of the Tobacco 21 movement – and the fervency of aligned organizations – might suggest a smoking epidemic among young adults in Illinois. But data hint the opposite is occurring.
Tobacco 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 the general public kicking smoking habits on their own volition, state lawmakers might consider breaking unpleasant habits of their own. Illinois is one of the most paternalistic states in the country, according to at least one study. Smoking costs lives, and its falling popularity is an encouraging development for Illinoisans. However, the state’s regulatory excesses cost jobs. And that’s an epidemic for which lawmakers need a cure.