Gov. Bruce Rauner is coming under fire from health advocates and politicians for his vetoing of legislation that would have raised the age in Illinois for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21.
“I’m stunned that Bruce Rauner, the governor of the state of Illinois, sided with Big Tobacco instead of our children,” state Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield), chief sponsor of the legislation, said after Rauner’s action Friday (Aug. 24). “We have known for decades the dangers of tobacco use. The Illinois communities that stepped up and adopted Tobacco 21 on their own have seen a dramatic decrease in high school smoking rates.”
Tobacco 21 laws cover more than 4.5 million people in 26 Illinois municipalities, including Chicago, Aurora, Peoria, Highland Park, Evanston and Naperville. Six states — California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Oregon — already have raised the age for purchasing tobacco to 21.
Lake County was the first county in Illinois to raise the age for tobacco purchases in unincorporated areas to 21.
In his veto message, Rauner said raising the minimum age for tobacco products in Illinois would simply send people to non-licensed vendors or neighboring states for their purchases.
“Smoking is detrimental to the health of Illinoisans of all ages,” Rauner said in his statement. “It is important that we address the issues caused by tobacco use, especially since many people begin using tobacco at a young age. Unfortunately, this legislation will inhibit the choice of consumers while also not helping keep tobacco products out of the hands of youth.”
Representatives of the American Lung Association, an agency supporting the Tobacco 21 effort, said the governor’s decision was a detriment to the children of Illinois.
Kathy Drea, vice president of advocacy for the Lung Association, said that enacting the legislation would have protected children from the harms of tobacco, reduced smoking rates, saved on healthcare costs and, ultimately, saved lives.
“One-in-five high school students use tobacco products and 95 percent of smokers report starting before the age of 21,” Drea said. “Raising the purchasing age can prevent young people from ever starting and can save teens from the death and disease associated with tobacco use. With the rise of easily concealable and fruit- and candy-flavored tobacco products, Tobacco 21 is important now more than ever. In addition, this law has the potential of saving each Illinois family nearly $1,000 a year over time in state and federal tax burdens associated with tobacco-related healthcare costs.”
Morrison said that Rauner could have made a significant step to improve the health of the state’s young people.
“At a time of increased vaping use among teens, the governor had an opportunity to make a real investment in the health of our next generation,” Morrison said. “Instead, he favored political considerations over the health of our children, and in doing so, failed us all.”
The 26 community-based Tobacco 21 ordinances were seen as building blocks toward a statewide Tobacco 21 law. However, the state House and Senate passed the legislation on pretty much party-line votes; and the Republican governor followed suit with a veto.
The Tobacco 21 campaign said that Illinois has a slightly below average rate of high school smoking, an improvement from 2016, but a near identical rate of adult smoking, compared to national rates. Campaign officials said that given the state’s high population, an estimated 230,000 children now under the age of 18 will die prematurely from smoking, with 6,300 children becoming daily smokers each year.
The state spends less than 9 percent of the Centers for Disease Control’s recommended amount on tobacco prevention, according to the Tobacco 21 campaign.
The truth initiative put the nation’s annual healthcare costs for smoking-related issues at $5.4 billion and lost productivity at $5.2 billion.
Illinois ranks 20th with a $1.98 tax per pack of cigarettes, but when combined with Cook County and Chicago taxes, smokers pay $6.16 per pack, the highest cigarette tax in the nation.
Retailers had expressed concerns to state lawmakers that the legislation was more aimed at curbing cigarette sales than stopping teens from smoking. Business owners in border communities said they feared losing cigarette sales to neighboring states.
—- Rauner butts tobacco 21-and-over legislation to curb—