A Tobacco 21 bill, which raises the age at which people can buy tobacco products, electronic cigarettes and alternative nicotine products, easily passed the House on Tuesday after gaining some new support.
House Bill 345, sponsored by Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Chicago, gained 82 yes votes and 31 no votes this session. Last year’s Tobacco 21 bill only mustered 62 votes in the House, short of the 71 needed to override former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of the legislation.
The measure now goes to the Senate. Gov. JB Pritzker’s spokeswoman, Jordan Abudayyeh, has previously said the governor “looks forward to reviewing the legislation.”
“The governor believes in order to help build a healthy society, we have to work to prevent young people from smoking,” Abudayyeh said via email.
On the House floor, Lilly said 95 percent of people who smoke started before the age of 21, a fact that the bill is trying to combat.
“The total health care costs related to tobacco use is over $5 billion a year,” she said. “This is a public health issue.”
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, voted yes on the bill this year after voting against it last session.
He said he had been fighting Tobacco 21 for most of his career, but now thinks raising the age to buy tobacco is the right thing to do.
“We can no longer ignore this,” he said.
Durkin told the House how his 17-year-old daughter told him the tobacco and e-cigarette problem was “out of control” at her school.
“She said, 'You guys need to be doing something,'” Durkin said. “I said I’m doing something, I’m changing my mind and I’m voting for this bill.”
The bill eliminates penalties for underage possession of cigarettes, which was something that did not sit well with some lawmakers who opposed the bill.
Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, said the first violation for getting caught with tobacco as a minor, as the law stands now, is 15 hours of community service.
“I don’t think anybody here in the chamber can dispute that 15 hours of community service, whether you’re a criminal or not, is a good thing,” she said. “I don’t think the current law, how it reads right now, is a problem, and I have heard from local police departments that they do utilize the 15 hours of community service.”
Lilly said it was not a criminal bill, and there was no evidence that penalizing young people caused them not to smoke.
“These young people need to be given the chance to live healthier lives,” McCombie said.
McCombie also was concerned that the state estimates that it could lose up to $40 million in tax revenue by raising the purchase age.
Lilly responded that the estimate has been inflated.
Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in his support for the bill, saying tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the United States.
He said nine out of 10 people who smoke cigarettes tried them by the age of 18.
“480,000 deaths per year are due to smoking, 1,300 deaths a day,” Butler said. “Ladies and gentlemen, smoking kills.”
Going after smoking, especially at an early age, is one way to make a healthier United States, he said.
Republican Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer of Jacksonville, speaking against the bill, said his concern on the bill is mainly philosophical.
“I believe if a person is old enough to decide who the most powerful person on the planet, the president of the United States, is, I think they’re responsible enough to look at the package of cigarettes or look at the can of chewing tobacco and see that it says it can kill you,” Davidsmeyer said.
Davidsmeyer’s district borders the Mississippi River, which means businesses would be competing with Missouri, which has a lower cigarette tax.
In her closing speech, Lilly argued that if “you don’t have your health, you don’t have much else.”
“As a society, everyone deserves to live longer lives. Why shouldn’t we follow that example?” she said.
So far, 38 communities have passed Tobacco 21 ordinances. This includes three central Illinois areas: Peoria, Normal and Washington.
Illinois would be the seventh state to enact Tobacco 21 if it passes the House and gets the governor’s signature. California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine have raised the legal smoking age to 21.
Contact Cassie Buchman: 782-3095, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/cjbuchman