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Illinois To Consider Raising Smoking Age To 21

Amanda Vinicky

Anti-smoking advocates want to raise the age for buying tobacco to 21, in an attempt to dissuade teenagers from picking up the habit.

You can vote at the age of 18, join the military, and for now buy cigarettes. Legislation (SB3011)  introduced by Sen. John Mulroe, D-Chicago, would require young adults to wait another four years.

"If we can guide them through these late teens and into their 20s without a nicotine addiction, it's more likely they will never become tobacco users," says Dr. Ronald Johnson, a physician in Pittsfield, who says he can remember a tobacco product machine in his hospital.

"We are supporting our troops by passing this bill; there's nothing patriotic about tobacco use," he says. "I Can't think of a single group of people that needs to be in better health than our military ... if they're short of breath, have as asthma attack or have to be at sick call they cannot do our job and protect our country."

He points out that Illinois' public college campuses are already smoke-free.

Ginnie Flynn, who does communications for the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians, doesn't smoke now. But she did when she was younger.

She says cigarettes were easily accessible from a convenience store near her college dorm.

"I was smart enough to get into college, but I probably wasn't smart enough to make the best choice for myself at that time. And I didn't," she said. "You know, and when I was finally smart enough to make the choice to quit, it was hard, and it did take multiple times. And I never once look back on those days and say 'boy that was cool, when I was that 20 year-old smoking in my dorm and smoking around campus."

Advocates, including the American Lung Association, Illinois Public Health Association and March of Dimes, say keeping cigarettes out of teens' reach could reduce the roughly $5.5 billion dollars the state spends every year on smoking-related health costs.

But look for a fight from the tobacco industry, and from critics who decry the notion of a "nanny state." The tobacco lobby has fought hard against previous efforts to restrict smoking in Illinois.

The statewide effort comes as Chicago's mayor is pushing the city to raise its legal smoking age to 21; he's been opposed by aldermen who say 18 year-olds aren't kids.

Hawaii, as well as the cities of Boston, New York and Illinois' Evanston ban teens from smoking.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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