Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation on Sunday that raises the legal age for purchasing cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21.
HB 345 takes effect July 1. It aims to reduce tobacco use among teens and young adults by preventing them from starting, said Pritzker and state lawmakers who attended Sunday’s bill signing.
Statistics show that most smokers start as teenagers, and the younger they are when they start, the more likely they’ll become addicted.
Illinois joins a growing list of states and municipalities adopting “Tobacco 21” policies, as vaping among teens is on the rise.
Teen smoking rates have declined over the years, but advocates warn that the popularity of e-cigarettes threatens to reverse the progress.
Some tobacco and e-cigarette companies have signaled support for Tobacco 21 policies.
The chief executive officer of JUUL Labs commended Pritzker and the bill’s sponsors for their “leadership on the issue.”
In a statement, Ken Burns pledged the e-cigarette maker’s support for similar legislation in other states, saying the policies reduce sharing by legal-age peers, a major contributor to youth tobacco use.
“We know Tobacco 21 policies work. In areas where they are already enacted, smoking rates are falling,” the company said previously.
“We urge lawmakers in states without these age protections to follow their example, and when and if they do, we will proudly support their efforts.”
Other places where you have to be 21 to purchase tobacco
Washington’s governor on Friday signed legislation that will take effect in 2020. The New York Senate passed legislation on April 1 that is expected to go to the governor’s desk.
States where the legal age is already 21 include Hawaii, California, New Jersey, Oregon, Maine and Massachusetts. Laws will take effect later this year in Arkansas and Virginia.
Chicago raised the age in 2016 for purchasing tobacco, in what Pritzker called a model for the statewide legislation. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who attended Sunday’s signing, said raising the age contributed to reductions in youth smoking in Chicago.
Pritzker cited statistics showing that tobacco use is on the rise among youth, driven largely by e-cigarettes. The new law would help reverse the trend, he said.
“We’re dealing with an old problem in a new form,” Pritzker said. “And while all our residents have the right to make this choice for themselves, we need to be realistic about what that choice means for our young people.”
His predecessor, Gov. Bruce Rautner, vetoed a similar measure, saying it would limit consumer choice and drive people to other states or non-licensed vendors for purchases.
Pritzker dismissed concerns that the legislation would hurt businesses by depriving them of revenue.
He called on neighboring states to pass similar laws to discourage people from crossing state lines. The new law does not include penalties for underage possession, but businesses face fines and sanctions for selling to consumers under 21.
A March 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine – now called the National Academy of Medicine – concluded that raising the age would save lives and lead to better public health outcomes.
The report found that increasing the age reduces tobacco initiation among 15- to 17-year-olds, leading to reductions in smoking prevalence.
Representative Camille Y. Lilly, who sponsored the Illinois legislation, said it will reduce sharing among underage teens who get tobacco from older friends.
“It takes health care to make America better,” she said. “This piece of legislation brings us forward.”