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"Tobacco 21" Moves to Illinois Senate

Experts say a majority of adult smokers picked up the habit before age 21. (Hans Martin Paul/Pixabay)
Experts say a majority of adult smokers picked up the habit before age 21. (Hans Martin Paul/Pixabay)
March 13, 2019

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – "Tobacco 21" legislation is now in the hands of the Illinois Senate.

House lawmakers passed HB 345 on Tuesday, which would raise the age to purchase cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21. Similar legislation was vetoed by Governor Bruce Rauner last year, who argued the bill would inhibit consumer choice, and could drive people to purchase tobacco from neighboring states that haven't raised the sales age.

But Matthew Maloney, director of health policy with the Respiratory Health Association, contends there's much more support from communities this time around.

"Part of the optimism this year is that there's a lot of new legislators,” says Maloney. “And they've been hearing from their community, a lot of them hearing from parents and school administrators, about the need to cut tobacco use among the teenagers, especially school age."

Maloney argues the legislation would not have a significant impact on retail sales because people ages 18 to 21 account for only 2 percent of overall tobacco sales. He notes that the majority of smokers begin before age 21, and that 4,800 Illinois teens become new daily smokers each year.

According to the Institute of Medicine, raising the tobacco-purchase age could reduce overall smoking by 12 percent by the time today's teens become adults.

Six states and 35 Illinois communities have raised the age. And Maloney says the bill also addresses the growing epidemic of vaping among young people by including electronic cigarettes.

"Young people are now using these products at greater rates every year, and getting this to 21 just gets it out of the high school group,” says Maloney. “And many young people who use the vaping products end up getting addicted to nicotine and then, transition on and become regular tobacco users."

In Illinois, 7.6 percent of high school students smoke, and 13 percent use e-cigarettes. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says e-cigarette use among high schoolers doubled nationally to 20 percent between 2017 and 2018.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL