Starting Monday, people younger than 21 won’t be able to buy tobacco products or e-cigarette in Illinois.
The new law, which Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed earlier this year, was designed to discourage young people from smoking or using other products that contain nicotine by raising the age limit to buy those products from 18 to 21. Supporters of the measure said smoking leads to higher health care costs that could be picked up by taxpayers and the more smoking is reduced, the more taxpayers will save down the line.
Lawmakers passed the Tobacco 21 legislation while Gov. Bruce Rauner was in office, but he vetoed it. Lawmakers then passed it again earlier this year and Pritzker signed it into law, effective July 1.
Dr. Brad Rodu from the University of Louisville said the law will help cut down on youth smoking. However, he said it should have been phased in for adults younger than 21 who already addicted to nicotine.
“That is a problem with respect to making legal activity all of a sudden [illegal],” Rodu said.
Illinois Association of Convenience Stores Executive Bill Fleischli said 18, 19 and 20-year-olds will still find ways to get tobacco products.
“Those five percent, do you think on the second of July they’re all going to quit smoking? No. They’re going to go someplace else, they’re going to buy them over the internet, they’re going to buy smuggled cigarettes. They’re going to buy them illegally,” he said.
Fleischli said that 18-year-olds can decide to “vote, get married, have an abortion, joined the armed services.” He said they should be able to make the choice whether to smoke.
Rodu said smoking is a privilege that Illinois has determined should be for people who act like an adult.
“And kids who are 18 and 19 years old and purchase tobacco products and give them to underage children aren’t acting like adults,” Rodu said.
Because the penalties for underage tobacco possession were softened under the terms of the new law, Fleischli said convenience store clerks and owners will be the ones punished for selling to adults younger than 21.
“It’s hell for your sales clerks and it’s very hard for business,” he said. “The only persons that control this now are our sales clerk. We are the police of the 21 and older bill. If one of our people forgets July 2 and they sell them and get caught, we’re punished, both the operator and the salesperson. And a lot of our people have a business practice that if you’re caught doing illegal things like that, you lose your job.”
Fleischli said ultimately government and businesses will lose revenue.
“It means a loss of business,” Fleischli said. “To the state, it's $50 million."
Members of Illinois Association of Convenience Stores stand to lose between $10 million and $20 million because of the new age restriction, Fleischli said.
"It’s the No. 1 selling product inside,” he said.
Fleischli said the law will encourage adults younger than 21 to buy tobacco and vaping products in other states. He said he would have rather had the federal government raise the age limit to 21 nationwide that see it done state by state.
While other states are moving forward with similar measures, none of Illinois neighboring states have passed Tobacco 21 laws. Dozens of Illinois communities had already adopted local Tobacco 21 ordinances.