By Sarah Zimmerman
SPRINGFIELD — An Illinois Senate panel on Tuesday endorsed raising the age to buy tobacco in an effort the sponsor said is aimed at snuffing out teenage smoking.
The Senate Public Health Committee voted 6-2 to prohibit the sale of tobacco or related products to anyone under 21. The current age is 18.
The ban would include cigarettes, cigars, snuff and chew, and nicotine-based products such as e-cigarettes or vaping materials.
Kristina Hamilton, director of health promotion for the American Lung Association in Illinois, said the proposal would prevent teenagers from forming a deadly habit.
“Ninety-five percent of long-term smokers start before they turn 21,” she said. “Therefore, if a person does not start smoking before the age of 21, it is overwhelmingly likely that they never will.”
A House committee voted 3-1 Tuesday to advance an identical proposal. Each goes to the floors of their respective chambers for consideration.
Opponents complained the plan would hurt small businesses and convenience stores, which could be fined $200 for a first offense.
They also argued that the legislation sends the wrong message. While buying tobacco under 21 would be barred, underage possession would not be penalized.
Republican Sen. Sam McCann of Plainview voted against the measure, saying it would make the “product harder to obtain but easier to possess.”
Current law penalizes underage smokers with a $25 fine for a first violation. Chief sponsor Sen. Julie Morrison, a Democrat from Deerfield, said the penalties are rarely enforced.
Rob Karr of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association said it would hurt small businesses and potential customers would “just cross the borders” into other states to buy tobacco.
Fourteen Illinois cities and counties, including Chicago, have already adopted local ordinances setting the age at 21.