Illinois lawmakers consider raising tobacco-buying age to 21

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.  — Illinois legislators are reviving bills that would raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21, with lawmakers hoping that Gov. J.B. Pritzker will look on the issue more favorably than his predecessor.

More than 30 Illinois communities have already enacted Tobacco 21 ordinances, including Arlington Heights, Lake Zurich and Park Ridge.

“I think that the more local communities that take action will indicate to legislators that this is something communities want,” said Democratic Sen. Julie Morrison who sponsored the Senate bill with Sen. Michael Hastings.

Democratic Reps. Camille Lilly and Sonya Harper were sponsoring the House bill, The State Journal-Register reported.

Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokeswoman for Pritzker, said he “looks forward to reviewing the legislation.”

“The governor believes in order to help build a healthy society, we have to work to prevent young people from smoking,” Abudayyeh said in an email.

Limiting children’s access to tobacco products will likely help prevent them from getting a number of tobacco-related diseases, including lung cancer and heart disease, said Kathy Drea, vice president of advocacy at the American Lung Association in Illinois.

“If they haven’t started smoking using tobacco products by 21, chances are high that they will never start,” Drea said.

Measures to increase the legal age passed both chambers last year, but former Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed them, citing doubts that the legislation would stop teenagers from acquiring tobacco products, as well as concerns over the effect on businesses.

“Since no neighboring state has raised the age for purchasing tobacco products, local businesses and the state will see decreased revenue, while public health impacts continue,” Rauner wrote.

The state collected more than $745 million in cigarette taxes, according to the Illinois Department of Revenue’s 2018 annual report. The proposed changes would likely cut the state’s cigarette tax receipts by $40 million a year and sales taxes by $6 million to $8 million, the department estimated.

Republican Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer voted against the bill last session and said he will do the same with the new bill.

“Really, it’s a philosophical disagreement,” Davidsmeyer said. “I think that if somebody’s 18 years old and legally an adult, they should be able to make their own decisions.”

California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Hawaii, Maine and the District of Columbia have laws that require a person to be 21 before they can purchase tobacco.

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