The movement to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21 years of age has arrived in Illinois.

As of February, 2016, 121 cities in 9 states, and the entire state of Hawaii, have taken this step, covering over 14.6 million people. Similar legislation has passed the Senate in both New Jersey and California, and await a vote in their respective General Assemblies. Now, Illinois has joined their ranks, thanks to a bill from state senator John G. Mulroe (D-Chicago).

Mulroe, joined by health advocates, held a press conference on Thursday of last week, where they outlined the reasons for pitching the new bill:

  • Smoking is deadly, and the proof’s available on every pack of cigarettes in the form of a warning from the U.S. surgeon general.
  • Smoking is expensive to the individual. A two-pack a-day habit in some areas (notably Chicago) can run a person $24 a day or more than $8,700 a year, Mulroe said.
  • Smoking is expensive to the state. The senator and public health advocates said $5 billion annually is spent in Illinois treating smoking-related illnesses, and $2 billion of that comes from taxpayer-supported Medicaid funds.
  • Raising the legal age for the purchase and possession of tobacco is a research-proven way to cut use among young people. Mulroe said research also shows that if people make it to 21 without smoking, they likely never start.

Mulroe says that he's not targeting smokers, although many have told him they support the raising of the smoking age. Not everyone agrees. Anthony Fisher of of says that while Mulroe and his supporters make some good points, this bill:

“...restricts the personal liberties of adults, which people who are above the age of 18 are, period.

“They can be charged as adults under the law, they can fight and die for their country, and they are required to pay taxes. They’re adults, and they are entitled to make their own decisions, even if they are ill-advised decisions like taking up cigarette smoking,” he said.

Fisher acknowledged the public-health cost of smoking is “a fair and valid point.”

“But if we’re going to go there, let’s go further — let’s make it so that nobody under 21 can purchase sugar,” he said.

“That will make it hard for people to develop the sugar habit, (and) it will make it harder for people to develop diabetes,” he argued.

“Let’s just never stop,” he said. “Let’s just never stop using the public good as an excuse to curb people’s choices. We can go on forever with this.”

If the bill (SB 3011) passes, it would:

...apply to the sale, purchase and possession of all tobacco products, as well as electronic cigarettes. If passed, it would provide business penalties for retailers who sell tobacco products to anyone younger than 21 and make it a petty offense for anyone under 21 to be in possession.

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