Illinois House approves bill raising age to buy tobacco to 21

Illinois House approves bill raising age to buy tobacco to 21

By REBECCA ANZEL
ranzel@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD — Lawmakers on Tuesday successfully passed a bill through the House that calls for raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21.

The legislation moves to the Senate for a vote expected next week. There, it will likely receive enough support to land on Gov. J.B. Pritzker's desk.

Although the governor has not definitively indicated whether he supports the measure — which would raise the minimum age to buy cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vapes, chewing tobacco and other products containing nicotine in Illinois — his spokeswoman said in a written statement that Pritzker "looks forward to reviewing the legislation to raise the smoking age."

And Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, indicated at a press event in early February that Pritzker would sign the "Tobacco 21" legislation if both chambers approved it first.

The bill's passage comes as a victory for House sponsor Camille Lilly, D-Chicago. This is the fourth time in as many years a version of this measure was introduced in the General Assembly, where historically it would succeed in the Senate, only to fail in the House.

During the previous legislative session, both chambers approved "Tobacco 21." When former Gov. Bruce Rauner did not sign it, only the Senate was able to override his veto.

This year, Lilly said her colleagues and advocates wanted to try a new approach. By running the measure through her chamber first, where she has "more people to deal with," they hoped to secure a favorable outcome.

The measure passed by a vote of 82 to 31, securing the support of several Republicans, including Minority Leader Jim Durkin.

During debate Tuesday, Durkin said that while he has "been fighting it for most of (his) career," he was changing his stance on raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products in part because of research into the "epidemic" of smoking.

"I am here to say that I am no longer fighting it, but I am supporting Tobacco 21 for the state of Illinois," Durkin said.

Opponents had two main arguments — ones that have been made in previous sessions and in committee hearings this session. The first is that if 18 is old enough to serve on a jury, enlist in the military or get married, it should be old enough to buy a cigarette.

Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, made this point.

"I believe that if a person is old enough to decide who the most powerful person on the planet, the president of the United States, is, I think they're responsible enough to look at the package of cigarettes, look at a can of chewing tobacco, and see that it says 'This can kill you,'" he said.

The second finds fault with the removal of penalties in current law for minors caught with tobacco products. Presently, minors found with a product containing nicotine might have to take a "smoker's education or youth diversion program" with their parents. Each additional violation brings increased fees and hours of community service.

The bill leaves in penalties for merchants who sell to minors. Bill Fleischli, executive vice president of the Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association and the state's Association of Convenience Stores, finds fault with this logic.

Fleischli said merchants then become the policers, because law enforcement would be unable to do anything if an officer saw a minor with a cigarette, for example.

Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, who is a chief co-sponsor of the measure, said he knows "this isn't a perfect bill."

"For those who wonder about the decriminalization aspect of it, I'd like you to ask a member of our law enforcement how many kids they actually bust for smoking a cigarette every day," he said. "It doesn't actually happen today."

The soonest the Senate could vote on the legislation, House Bill 345, is Tuesday.

Kathy Drea, the American Lung Association's senior director for advocacy, said she is looking forward to the vote in the Senate. She and her colleagues have a meeting today with Pritzker.

Capitol News Illinois is a newly created nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation. Its mission is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government to the more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers that are members of the Illinois Press Association.

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