Illinois considers raising age to buy tobacco products

A measure to raise the age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21 in Illinois got initial approval Tuesday, with the lawmaker behind the proposal telling colleagues he wants to make it harder for youth to pick up a lifelong habit.

"Smoking will kill you and before it kills you it will harm your lungs, your heart and other various organs," said Chicago Democratic Sen. John Mulroe, the bill sponsor, before reading the surgeon general's warning on a box of cigarettes during a committee hearing.

The bill comes as California Gov. Jerry Brown considers whether to sign legislation that would raise the tobacco-buying age to 21 in his state. Last year, Hawaii became the first state in the country to do so.

During the last year, about a dozen states have introduced legislation to raise the age to buy tobacco products, according to the National Conference of State Legislature. Bills in Mississippi and Maryland have already failed, while proposals in New Jersey, Tennessee and Rhode Island are still pending.

The Senate Public Health advanced Mulroe's bill to the full chamber on a 6-3 vote.

Before the vote, Bill Fleischli, the executive vice president of the Illinois Association of Convenience Stores and the Illinois Petroleum Marketers, told lawmakers that stores have been successful in preventing underage sales.

He said 18-year-olds should be treated as adults who can make their own decisions.

"You're allowed to marry when you're 18, you're allowed to divorce and you're allowed to make decisions regarding your health care," he said.

But Mulroe said studies show youth who don't smoke until they're at least 21 are less likely to pick up the habit.

"We're going to save lives by increasing the age from 18 to 21," he said.

A 2013 paper published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine said nine out of 10 daily smokers have their first cigarette by 18. That paper also found that the vast majority of cigarettes bought for minors are obtained by people between 18 and 20 years old.


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