House passes bill to raise legal tobacco age to 21, decriminalize possession for those under 18
The Illinois House of Representatives passed legislation that will raise the legal age for tobacco-products purchase to 21, and decriminalize tobacco possession for those under the age of 18.
House Bill 345 increases the age requirement for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21 in Illinois. The bill passed the House with 82 Yes votes and 31 No votes.
Camille Y. Lilly (D-Oak Park) sponsored the bill in the House.
"We've been debating this bill for four years and it’s before you again because the past governor vetoed it," Lilly said on the House floor.
Lilly said she believes every single media outlet supports the bill, nicknamed "Tobacco 21." House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Burr Ridge) said he previously was against the bill.
"I’ve been around here a few years and this issue has been around as long as I have been," Durkin said. "I’ve always been fighting it. But, I’m here to say today that I’m no longer fighting it."
Durkin said his 17-year-old daughter urged him to support the bill.
"She said, 'Dad you have got to do something. It's out of control,'" Durkin said. "I cannot ignore what the U.S. Surgeon General has said about teen smoking and e-cigarettes. We can no longer ignore this and stick our heads in the sand."
Durkin said he recommended that everyone support the legislation. Rep. Mark Batinick (R-Plainfield) did just that, but he had questions for Lilly prior to the vote.
"While this bill raises the age of purchasing to 21, it decriminalizes it for those under 18 to have tobacco products," Batinick said. "Do you have any concerns that this might make accessibility for kids 15, 16 or 17 actually higher since the access is easier than it currently stands today?"
Lilly explained that 18-year-olds are typically the suppliers of tobacco products to younger teenagers and that 21-year-olds don't typically associate with younger teens.
"Do you know what the lost tax revenue to the state will be?" Batinick questioned.
Lilly said the numbers they had were inflated, but she didn't have them at that time.
"To the bill, I think some of us will be for it and some will oppose it, but I think there are some important unanswered questions," Batinick concluded.
Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) thanked Lilly for her work on the bill and said he was happy to be the chief co-sponsor.
"Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the United States," Butler said. "Smoking kills. There are no two ways around this."
Butler said he knew the bill wasn't perfect, but it was the right thing to do for Illinois.
"If this bill can prevent another person from lung cancer we should all vote Yes," Rep. Margo McDermed (R-Frankfort) said. "I'm dedicating this vote to my mom."
Rep. Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville) said he was a strong supporter of the bill.
"This is the right thing to do for our youth," Wehrli said.
There were also several House members who did not support the bill.
Rep. Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) urged the House to not pass the bill.
"Absolutely, smoking kills — it killed both of my parents," McCombie said. "But nothing I could do or say would’ve got them to stop smoking. A bill like this would’ve never gotten them to stop smoking as a child."
Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer (R-Jacksonville) also opposed the bill.
"My concern is mainly philosophical," Davidsmeyer said. "If they’re old enough to vote, they’re old enough to understand this could kill you. I understand it's bad for you, but . . . you’re either an adult or not. . . . That’s my reason for opposing this."
Rep. Allen Skillicorn (R-Crystal Lake) also spoke out against the bill.
"Everybody here can agree smoking is a dirty and unhealthy habit," Skillicorn said. "But what have we learned about banning things?"
Skillicorn said that a better approach to the issue and was to educate young people.
Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-North Aurora) said that since Illinois border states were not raising the legal age, those under 21 could simply purchase tobacco products out of state.
"I can certainly understand the motive behind this bill, but I don’t think we’re going to get to where we want to go with the bill this way right now," Wheeler said.