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Illinois has become the first state in the Midwest to raise the legal age at which a person can buy tobacco from 18 to 21, as a new law known as Tobacco 21 came into effect at the beginning of July.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, who said he was proud that Illinois had blazed a trail with the new regulations, signed into law the Tobacco 21 bill in April this year. It took effect on July 1.
“This law will reduce costs for our state, make our schools and communities healthier places to learn and live, and most importantly, will save lives. I am grateful to Senate President John Cullerton and our legislators in the General Assembly, as well as all of the advocates and organizations who made this critical legislation possible,” Pritzker said on the day the law came into effect.
“Once again, we’ve seen the difference Governor Pritzker brings to office. He too recognizes this as a vital public health improvement that protects our children from a known danger and hopefully spares many from a lifetime of addiction and health problems,” Cullerton said.
Pritzker has been a busy man since he came to office. Just recently, he approved a law that allows the use of recreational marijuana state-wide.
Proponents of the Tobacco 21 law had argued that the legislation would particularly discourage teen smoking and keep cigarettes out of high schools. A statement from the Illinois Department of Public Health said national data indicates that about 95 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before they turn 21. In addition, the department quoted a study from the National Academy of Medicine, that said Tobacco 21 policies could reduce overall smoking by 12 percent by the time today’s teenagers become adults.
It is estimated that about 4,800 Illinois teens become new daily smokers annually. The department further said that in 2016, 15.8 percent of Illinois adults smoked, resulting in an estimated 18,300 deaths each year associated with tobacco use. In 2017, 7.6 percent of high school students smoked on at least one day in the past 30 days.
Estimates say smoking-related health care costs in the U.S. almost $5.5 billion annually, with another $5.3 billion lost due to smoking-related losses in productivity.
“Nicotine is addictive, and adolescents and young adults are more susceptible to its effects because their brains are still developing. Delaying the age when youth first try tobacco can help reduce the probability that they will smoke as an adult. Raising the purchasing age will not only help reduce the number of people who smoke, but will also reduce medical costs in Illinois and make our communities healthier,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike, said.
The last point was a particularly sore one for Republican legislators, who argued that there should be penalties for underage possession of cigarettes. This was further emphasized by Bill Fleischli, the executive vice-president of the Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association and the state’s Association of Convenience Stores, who felt the removal of penalties for underage possession of cigarettes watered down the law. Their argument was that the law was not deterrent enough and would not discourage smoking among teens.
A total of 16 states have raised the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21
The Tobacco 21 law was sponsored by State Senator Julie Morrison (D, Deerfield), whose father, a longtime smoker, died prematurely from lung cancer. When the bill was signed in April, she said: “Perhaps if we had had this bill passed 30 or 40 years ago, my father would not have died at the age of 54, and I’m hoping we actually make a change in Illinois for everyone.”