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Illinois Senate Considers Flavored Tobacco Ban

Lee Milner
From left, Ruby Johnson testifies for a proposed statewide ban on flavored tobacco products, while Tony Abboud testifies against the ban, at an Illinois Senate committee hearing in Springfield on Oct. 29

State lawmakers are considering whether to ban flavored tobacco products in Illinois. Both sides of that debate made their cases before a panel of state senators in Springfield Tuesday.

The proposed flavor ban is the latest in a long series of anti-tobacco legislation in Illinois. It would include flavored cigarettes — like menthol and mint — cigars, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes, or vapes. It would also punish retailers that sell those products anyway.

Ruby Johnson has a daughter who was hospitalized after vaping. She says flavored pods were to blame.

“Our kids are being hooked by flavors. We need our legislators to help us by banning the flavors that have drawn in youth like my daughter," she said before an Illinois Senate committee.

John Dixon of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership says banning flavors is not the answer. His group says Illinois should better regulate e-cigarette marketing and more harshly punish retailers who sell to minors.

“Bans don’t work. We have historical perspective to show that Prohibition didn’t work,” Dixon told state senators.

Doctor Terry Mason with the Cook County Department of Public Health is supporting the ban. He says it would reduce the number of youth who are using e-cigarettes, or vapes.

“Flavors improve the taste and mask the harshness of tobacco products, making it easier for kids to try the product and ultimately become addicted," Mason explained. "We need to take immediate action to protect our young people from a lifetime of addiction.”

The bill's sponsor, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, said he won’t take action on it during this week’s veto session. After hearing Tuesday’s testimony, Cullerton said he’s still confident the proposed ban will find favor among state lawmakers.

“It’s a big bill,” he explained. “There’s no state in the nation that’s passed it, but there are states that have gone after the vaping industry."

Tony Abboud of the Vapor Technology Association was among those that cautioned state lawmakers in their approach. He argued kids and adults alike would be affected by a flavor ban.

"It is extremely important that we get this issue right, not just for the kids but for the adults who are relying upon these flavors to help them quit smoking,” Abboud said.

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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