Illinois House passes ‘Tobacco 21’ bill

By Cole Lauterbach
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois is one step closer to becoming the eighth state to raise the legal age for buying and using tobacco and vaping products to 21.

The House Representatives passed the bill Tuesday afternoon. State Rep. Camille Lilly, the Oak Park Democrat who sponsored the bill, said Medicaid in Illinois spends about $2 billion a year for treatment of tobacco-related diseases.

“It is important that we move forward here in the state of Illinois and give our youth a living chance,” she said.

After previously opposing the change, Republican Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said his teenage daughter changed his mind.

“She said ‘You guys need to do something,’ and I said ‘Caroline, I’m doing something. I’m changing my mind and I will be voting for this bill,’ ” he said.

Others were still skeptical, saying that people who are legally able to vote for president should be able to make the decision whether or not to use tobacco products.

“I think there’s a point at which you have to say you’re either an adult or you’re not,” said state Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville.

Republican Toni McCombie said the law is likely to have unintended consequences.

“We have got to quit chipping away at our personal liberties and our tax bases,” she said.

Estimates on the bill say the state would lose up to $40 million per year in tobacco tax revenue, but Lilly said that estimate isn’t accurate because it assumes everyone would suddenly abide by the law.

Seven states have set the legal age for purchasing and using tobacco and other nicotine products at 21.

In Illinois, 38 municipalities had already raised the minimum age to 21, Lilly said.

Former Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a similar bill in 2018. He said that raising the age people can purchase tobacco products would push residents to buy from non-licensed vendors or stores in neighboring states.

“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,” he said at the time.

A number of public health organizations supported the bill.

“Research shows that Tobacco 21 laws can make a tremendous impact on the health of our communities as well as reduce healthcare costs from tobacco-related diseases,” said Kathy Drea from the Lung Association. “This law is proven to protect children, reduce smoking rates, save on healthcare costs and save lives. In fact, Chicago saw a 36 percent decline in the use of tobacco products among teens after passing Tobacco 21 in 2016.”

E-cigarette maker JUUL Labs CEO Kevin Burns said the company supported the change.“Tobacco 21 laws fight one of the largest contributors to this problem – sharing by legal-age peers – and they have been shown to dramatically reduce youth-use rates,” he said in a statement.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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