Illinois lawmakers in the House voted Tuesday to raise the age to purchase cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21. Last year, the proposal made it to the governor’s desk, but then-Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it. Supporters of the change are more optimistic this time.
Only a few states have passed similar laws. If approved by the Senate and signed by the governor, Illinois would be the first state in the Midwest.
Republican state Rep. Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, said he has fought against the issue for many years. Now, he said, he credits his 17-year-old daughter for helping him change his mind about what she called an issue “out of control”.
“She said you guys need to do something. I said Caroline, I’m doing something, I’m changing my mind.”
Several cities around the state already have similar ordinances.
Opponents took issue with a part of the measure that removes penalties for minors who get caught with tobacco products.
State Rep. Tony McCombie, a Savanna Republican, said she doesn’t think a law will make a difference.
“Absolutely right, smoking does kill—killed both of my parents. But there was nothing I could do or say that was ever going to make them stop smoking. A bill like this would have never gotten them to stop smoking as a child.”
The proposal prohibits retailers from selling tobacco products to those under 21 and fines those caught violating the law. Supporters of raising the age say that is a way to shift the blame away from youth and hold businesses accountable. Health advocates say smoking is a public health crisis and more kids are using products like e-cigarettes.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has not indicated whether he would sign the legislation. Jordan Abudayyeh, spokeswoman for the governor's office said, "the governor believes in order to help build a healthy society we have to work to prevent young people from smoking. He [Pritzker] looks forward to reviewing the legislation to raise the smoking age."
The proposal now heads to the Senate.