When you look at the issue logically, the arguments against Illinois raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21 go up in smoke. The bill signed last week by Gov. J.B. Pritzker goes into effect July 1.
Illinois is the first Midwestern state to increase the minimum age to purchase tobacco products. The law covers cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vapes, chewing tobacco and other goods containing nicotine.
The arguments against? We’ve heard them before ... both of them.
Young men and women only have to be 18 to vote. You only have to be 18 to enlist in the armed forces. Opponents of the bill argue that if a person is mature enough to vote, or can put their life on the line for their county, they should be able to light up.
Granted, if logic were based solely on uniformity, that would be a persuasive argument.
In this instance, reality and health issues overshadow uniformity.
The second argument — “This law won’t stop people who really want to smoke from getting cigarettes.”
That’s absolutely correct. No law has ever eliminated crime.
Judeo-Christian tradition tells us that Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Horeb thousands of years ago. Among the commandments are edicts against killing, theft, disobeying parents and adultery.
If Divine laws can’t stop wrongdoing, what chance does the State of Illinois have?
But, that doesn’t mean government abdicates its directive of creating a better, healthier world for its citizens. The goal of this law is not to make scofflaws of 18- to 20-year-olds. It is not to put underage smokers behind bars.
The law is an attempt to keep cigarettes out of the hands of teenagers and young adults for as long as possible. Most smokers pick up the habit well before the age of 18. And, many smokers proclaim they can quit anytime they want.
Yet, most ex-smokers talk about the difficulty of kicking the habit. And, it’s difficult to find a smoker who celebrates beginning the habit.
The toll smoking takes on our society is incredible.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States. That number includes 41,000 people who die from exposure to second-hand smoke.
Those numbers represent about one in five deaths annually, about 1,300 deaths every day. In addition, on average nonsmokers live 10 years longer than smokers. In addition, the American Lung Association tells us that 95 percent of adult smokers begin the habit before the age of 21.
Clearly this is a public health issue that fits within the purview of the state’s powers — like limiting the age for alcohol consumption and requiring persons to wear seat belts.
This is actually the second time the Illinois General Assembly has passed the law.
The bill passed last year only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Bruce Rauner. While Rauner agreed that smoking is detrimental to the health of Illinoisans, he cited economic consequences of the bill in his veto message.
Rauner said the law would force smokers in border areas to purchase cigarettes in Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri, Iowa or Wisconsin. That certainly would have happened, but it’s difficult to imagine businesses staying afloat solely on cigarette sales to customers aged 18 to 20.
“This is about the health of our youth and the longevity of our citizens,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker at the signing ceremony, “and if there are young people who will travel over state lines to buy tobacco products because they can legally buy them there, thin I urge the surrounding states to pass ‘Tobacco 21.’”
This law will not eradicate underage smoking. But, if it slows the rate of smoking in the state, it’s well worth the effort.