Purchasing tobacco in Illinois could soon be restricted to specifically individuals over the age of 21 after State Senators approved legislation to raise the legal age for buying tobacco on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 2332, which would raise the age to legally purchase tobacco products in Illinois from 18 to 21, passed by a vote of 35-20 on Wednesday and is now on its way to the House for a vote. The push to raise the legal buying age is not entirely new in Illinois, as evidenced by the Illinois Lung Association, which says about two dozen municipalities statewide have already adopted higher age requirements – specifically in metro areas such as Chicago, Aurora, Evanston, and most recently, Peoria. Despite the increasing trend amongst various local governments, Senate Bill 2332 aims at applying higher age requirements to the entire state of Illinois.
Now that the legislation heads to the House of Representatives, Jacksonville-based State Rep C.D. Davidsmeyer is sharing his thoughts on the matter. Davidsmeyer says he’d find it difficult to place restrictions on what adults should be allowed to decide on for themselves.
“We all know that tobacco is not good for you. There’s a number of things out there that aren’t good for you that we allow people to make their own decisions on. It’s another case where if a person is of legal age to do a number of things at the age of 18… if they’re an adult, I believe we have to allow them to make their decisions. Tobacco has all sorts of large warnings on them to let people know that they are, in fact, not a healthy product. But I think adults have to be able to make adult decisions. If you can make the decision to vote for the person who is the most powerful person in the world… You can drive an 18-wheeler, I believe, at the age of 17, so I have a hard time restricting adults’ decision-making rights.”
Advocates of the bill, like lead sponsor Senator Julie Morrison of Deerfield, point to both the short term and long term consequences of tobacco use. Morrison’s assessment focuses not only on the health of smokers, but also the price tag taken on by governments for the care of those who become ill as a result of smoking. Prevention is also another factor of Morrison’s argument, as studies show that if people refrain from smoking prior to the age of 21, they’re much less likely to ever start in the first place.
Another aspect of the bill is that it removes fines for minors found to be in possession of tobacco products, yet retailers found selling tobacco to underage individuals would still receive a fine. Davidsmeyer weighs in on that aspect, and says he recognizes there would be certain ways for minors to still procure tobacco despite what the law might say.
“We have to insure that not only purchasing for underage people is illegal, we have to make sure that them having it underage is illegal as well. My understanding is that it [Senate Bill 2332] takes away that standard that it is illegal for them to have it, so we want to make sure that they’re not allowed to have it at all. I recall, when I was in high school… to keep people from smoking in the bathrooms, they created a smoking area off campus across the street at the high school, and you’re just allowing people to do something that they shouldn’t, in fact, be allowed to do.”
Five states – California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey and Oregon – have already adopted the law. And while the legislative process still needs to play out, Illinois could become the sixth such state to raise the age to 21.