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Bill Would Ban Tobacco Sales To Youth Under 21

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UPDATE: The House Tuesday voted down Senate Bill 2332, which would have raised the tobacco purchase age in Illinois to to 21.

A measure in play at the Statehouse would make it a crime to sell tobacco products,  including cigarettes and vaping devices, to those under age 21.

Laura Sido of East Alton worked in bars and restaurants all of her adult life.  She smoked on and off until earlier this month. Sido, a 49-year-old stay-at-home grandmother, now has a chronic lung disease, COPD. And she  says she is in favor of anything that could keep young people from smoking.

If a measure that passed the Senate last month were to become law, she says:

“That would be the best thing ever. You’re still are in your teen years when you are 18 years old, making silly decisions and just to make it harder – that would be go great.”

According to the American Lung Association, it is estimated that boosting the tobacco purchase age those three years would result in a 25 percent drop in smoking rates among teens 14 to 17.

Kathy Drea is with the association's Illinois chapter:

“The idea behind the bill is to take the supplier out of the high school – the 18-year-old who buys tobacco products for the kids. The idea is to take out the supplier out of high schools. Most 14 to 17 year olds don’t have 21 year olds in their social circle. It's just so much easier to never start to smoke than it is to quit. We all know how difficult it is to quit smoking.”

The proposal, which has yet to come to be approved by the House, would not have state criminal penalties for the those under 18 who smoke, but would penalize those who sell tobacco products.

That’s a problem, says Victoria Vasconcellos – president of the Smoke Free Alternatives Coalition of Illinois.

“These kids are getting it from a black market and once you remove all penalties it’s going to be a boom for the black market. An 18-year-old will just hop in their car to Wisconsin and fill their trunk with smokes and now kids have nothing to fear because all penalties have been removed.”

The measure would take a segment of business away from Illinois, she and others argue.

But the bill’s initial sponsor, state Senator Julie Morrison of Deerfield, disagrees:

"I believe that the people who are selling the products are the ones that we need to make sure are following the law. We do not need to have 14-year-olds who are just acting like teenagers with criminal records."

One of the organizations brought on board to the Tobacco 21 movement is a group of retired military generals, who say they’ve joined because of the benefits of having a healthy military.

One of them is General Jay Sheedy of Pawnee.

“What's the difference between 18 and 21?  Well, there's a huge difference between 18 and 21 because a lot of the formative things that that young people do happen happened in that time period or the time, coming up to that and so it's just our belief that if we did this is a way to discourage tobacco use.”

Morrison says there are also fiscal reasons to take into account:

"This year we are anticipating $ 2 billion dollars will be spent — that's a b — a billion —  $2 billion dollars will be spent on diseases in Illinois for Medicaid funding that are directly related to smoking. This is a place that we can absolutely start to change the trend and get a grip on the funding for health care.”

It is estimated that the measure could cost the state between $41 million and 48 million per year in lost sales tax and cigarette tax money.

Currently, dozens of Illinois municipalities ban the sale of tobacco products to people under 21, including Chicago. A new rule bumping the smoking age up to 21 took effect in Peoria a few weeks ago. It's yet to be seen if that rule will become the law of the land across the state.

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