Illinoisans must be 21 or older to buy tobacco and e-cigarette
products, after a new state law took effect July 1.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law House Bill 345 on April 8, making Illinois
the first state in the Midwest to take part in the “Tobacco 21” movement.
While the law reduces penalties for underage possession of tobacco products, it
imposes stricter penalties on store owners who fail to comply with the new age
The Tobacco 21 movement, a project of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction
Foundation, advocates for measures to tighten age restrictions on tobacco
purchases across the country. Prior to the new statewide law, 28 municipalities
in Illinois had raised the tobacco age to 21 over the last five years, according
to the organization. The city of Evanston became the first to do so in 2014.
The goal of the law is to discourage nicotine use among younger adults,
reasoning that they will be less likely to begin consuming tobacco products at
age 21. Supporters say the law will improve public health and potentially reduce
health care costs.
Tobacco use in Illinois is already below the national average, according to the
United Health Foundation. Less than 16% of Illinois adults use tobacco, the
15th-lowest smoking rate in the nation.
Former Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a previous Tobacco 21 bill in 2018, arguing in
his veto message that it would negatively impact small businesses.
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Business owners worry about losing reliable
revenue, as tobacco and e-cigarettes have remained standard
convenience stores items. According to The Center Square, the new
age restrictions could cost members of the Illinois Association of
Convenience Stores up to $20 million.
None of Illinois’ neighboring states have a tobacco
purchasing age as high as 21. Illinoisans near the state border who
are younger than 21 but older than 18 can easily travel to other
states to buy cigarettes.
Accompanying the new age restrictions was a $1 increase in the
state’s tobacco tax that took effect July 1. Illinois’ high
cigarette taxes already drive consumers across state lines. The new
tax hike will only further encourage tobacco users to make their
purchases in other states, meaning more lost revenue for Illinois.
In 2018, the Illinois Department of Revenue estimated the state
could lose $41 million to $48 million in revenue by raising the
legal tobacco age to 21.
The new age restrictions coupled with higher cigarette taxes could
also incentivize illegal purchasing and smuggling of tobacco across
state lines. According to a 2009 report from the U.S. Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, “The incentive to profit
by evading payment of taxes rises with each tax rate hike.”
The number of adults who smoke has fallen sharply since 1990, a
trend state leaders should embrace. But giving Illinoisans more
reasons to spend their money elsewhere is one habit lawmakers should
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