On April 8, 2019, Governor Pritzker signed legislation officially raising the legal age to purchase tobacco in Illinois from 18 to 21. House Bill 345, otherwise known as the “Tobacco 21” bill, states that no person under the age of 21 may purchase tobacco products, electronic cigarettes, or any other alternative nicotine product, and imposes various penalties on businesses that do not follow the new law. While the bill raises the age to purchase tobacco products and imposes penalties on businesses who sell these products to people under 21, it also eliminates the penalty for underage possession of tobacco products. The bill takes effect July 1, 2019 and will make Illinois the seventh state to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21.
Legislators trying to raise the smoking age to 21 have been met with resistance in the past. Just last August, Governor Rauner vetoed the bill, stating it would limit consumer choice and drive people out of state or to non-licensed vendors for purchase.This time the bill had substantial majority support in both the Illinois House and Senate before being signed by Governor Pritzker.
Another major criticism the bill faced was the decision to remove penalties for underage possession of tobacco.Proponents of the bill argue that even though legal penalties for underage possession were removed, a police officer or other authority figure such as a teacher or counselor can call a child’s guardians or work with a school to impose discipline through an alternative avenue.
Proponents of the bill emphasize positive side effects of raising the age to purchase tobacco, including reduced healthcare costs, cleaner communities, and potentially preventing life long addiction in young people. This is backed by research showing that most smokers start as teenagers; some studies have even shown about 9 out of 10 smokers started before the age of 18. Proponents of the bill can also look at the over 30 Illinois communities that have adopted similar ordinances and seen a significant drop in the use of tobacco. For example, Chicago saw a 36% percent decline in cigarette and e-cigarette use among people between the ages of 18-20 years old after raising the legal age to purchase tobacco in 2016.
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