Editorial: State lawmakers, governor should ban teen tobacco sales

  • Legislation has been re-introduced in the Illinois General Assembly designed to discourage smoking by people under 21 years old.

    Legislation has been re-introduced in the Illinois General Assembly designed to discourage smoking by people under 21 years old. Getty Images

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted1/29/2019 9:07 PM

Before leaving office, former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner had a chance to sign legislation aimed at preventing teens from getting hooked on cigarettes. Instead, he vetoed it.

The measure would have raised the age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21 statewide, an approach already adopted by a number of suburbs and other communities across Illinois. We have hailed those towns for doing what -- thus far -- the state has not.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But now, lawmakers are reviving the Tobacco 21 effort in Springfield with bills in both the House and Senate. With the new makeup of the General Assembly, and a new governor, the change has a real chance of passing.

"The governor believes in order to help build a healthy society, we have to work to prevent young people from smoking," Jordan Abudayyeh, spokeswoman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker, said in an email to The Associated Press.

We find that encouraging.

About 30 Illinois towns, plus unincorporated Lake County, now ban tobacco sales to anyone under 21. Yet, the patchwork approach is highly problematic, with teens able to drive -- or, in some cases, just cross the street -- to buy cigarettes in a neighboring town.

In addition, the town-by-town approach can be confusing, and the situation in Lake County shows why.

A number of towns there -- including Gurnee, Lincolnshire, Vernon Hills and Mundelein -- have raised the tobacco-buying age to 21. Lake Zurich trustees did the same, but also extended their ban to possession. Thus, an 18-year-old teen from Lake Zurich can buy and smoke cigarettes in Grayslake or Wauconda, but can't legally bring them home.

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There are a number of compelling arguments for raising the tobacco age. For one thing, smoking is a lethal, expensive habit, and sobering American Lung Association statistics show that 95 percent of long-term smokers started before they turned 21.

Plus, supporters stress, boosting the age to 21 will help keep cigarettes out of our high schools.

While so far data is limited to show the effects of Tobacco 21 on youth smoking, some early signs are encouraging. After Chicago raised the age to 21 in 2016, data from the city's Department of Public Health indicated an immediate decline in those between 18 and 20 reporting cigarette and e-cigarette use. In 2016, it was 9.7 percent, compared to 15.2 percent the year before.

Yes, it's true that the state would lose tax revenue as a result of the change: The Illinois Department of Revenue estimates a drop of $40 million a year in the state's cigarette tax receipts and an additional loss of $6 million to $8 million in sales taxes, according to The Associated Press.

But it's important to remember that smoking costs society far more. In fact, smoking-related illness costs the United States more than $300 billion each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Tobacco 21 bills passed both chambers last year, but Rauner's veto derailed the effort and the General Assembly lacked the votes to override. The political landscape has changed in Springfield. Now is the perfect to act on behalf on our children -- and our future.

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