SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Illinois is one step closer to joining Hawaii and California in raising the minimum purchase age for tobacco products to 21. As reported by Half Wheel, a blog devoted to cigar news, the Illinois Senate voted 32-22 (with six senators abstaining) in favor of Senate Bill 3011, which will increase the minimum purchase age from 18 to 21.
The May 18, vote came less than a week after a second failed attempt to pass SB 3011. Previous versions included $50 fines and 25 hours of community service for those under 21 years old that were found in possession of tobacco. These possession violations were removed from the bill.
Senator John G. Mulroe (D) first proposed the bill in March, telling the State-Journal Register that he hoped the measure would lower the youth smoking rate and eventually lower smoking-related illness costs in Illinois.
“In addition to the costs of the individual, (smoking) costs our state, privately and publicly, over $5 billion annually to treat smoking-related illnesses,” Mulroe said. “Specifically to the state, $2 billion in Medicaid is spent annually on illnesses related to smoking, and obviously we could use those dollars for other services that aren’t getting supported right now.”
Retailers, however, argued that the evidence shows restrictions and taxes don’t lead to reduced smoking rates, but a black market.
“Specifically in Chicago, we’ve seen a major increase in the past few years of the illegal sale of cigarettes, including loose ones on the street or rogue retailers, and we believe the numbers are a direct result of increased taxes,” Tanya Triche, spokeswoman for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, told the State-Journal Register. “The demand for the product is still there, so people just find different ways such as going across the border to Indiana.”
Mulroe countered that any initial loss in state revenue would ultimately be made up by Medicaid savings, specifically for 18- to 20-year-old women who smoke during pregnancy, leading to premature births or children with smoking-related birth defects.
“I’m hoping for ... significant long-term savings, which will be worth it even if there is a loss in revenue,” he said.
The bill now moves to the Illinois House.