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Steve Balich Conservative Activist

State lawmakers attempting to raise the legal purchasing age for tobacco from 18 to 21 were officially unsuccessful Nov. 28.

Illinois House members voted 62-45, failing to achieve the required 71-vote threshold to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of the tobacco bill. Earlier this veto session, Senate Bill 2332 cleared the Senate 36-19 – receiving the bare minimum of votes needed to override the governor’s veto.

SB 2332, filed Jan. 24 by state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, is part of a nationwide initiative known as “Tobacco 21.” The measure would have made Illinois the seventh state with 21 as the legal age buy tobacco products.

The bill didn’t only apply to tobacco. Items prohibited under the bill included alternative nicotine products and electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes.” According to the bill, e-cigarettes included “any electronic nicotine delivery system, electronic cigar, electronic cigarillo, electronic pipe, electronic hookah, vape pen, or similar product or device.”

This effort found previous success in 27 Illinois communities, including Evanston, which raised its legal age to 21 in 2014. The city of Chicago followed in 2016. In September 2017, Lake County became the first in Illinois to adopt the ordinance countywide.

The Department of Revenue estimated that SB 2332 would have decreased cigarette tax revenue by between $35 million and $40 million per fiscal year, in addition to decreasing sales tax revenue by $6 million to $8 million.

The recent push for raising the legal age for tobacco purchases might suggest there is a smoking epidemic among young adults in Illinois. Data shows the opposite.

Fewer than 16 percent of Illinois adults smoked cigarettes in 2017 – decreasing from nearly 21 percent in 2012 – earning Illinois the second-lowest rate of adult cigarette consumption among neighbors as of 2017, according to the United Health Foundation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette use per capita fell to a record low nationwide, dropping more than 60 percent between 1965-2014.

Consistently decreasing smoking trends may help explain why cigarette tax revenue keeps falling in Illinois. When federal, state, county and city cigarette excise taxes are combined, Chicago is the highest in the nation. Cigarette excise taxes are considered an unreliable form of revenue generation, partly due to the overall decline in cigarette use, according to the Tax Foundation.

Instead of restricting what those old enough to vote may purchase, state lawmakers should focus their attention on issues such as passing a bipartisan anti-corruption bill and lowering the tax burden for families across Illinois.

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