State Senate moves to stub out teen smoking, OK’s raising tobacco age to 21

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An unidentified 15-year-old girl, who said she has been smoking since she was 13, smokes a cigarette during lunch break in front of her high school in Brookline, Mass. in 2000. (AP File Photo/Angela Rowlings)

Ten years after the state banned smoking in public places, Illinois is one step closer to raising the age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21.

The Illinois Senate on Wednesday passed a measure to raise the age to purchase cigarettes, vaping devices and tobacco products. The bill passed on a 35-20 vote. It must still clear the Illinois House.

If the bill passes, Illinois would be the sixth state to raise the age to buy tobacco. More than 300 towns across the country have already done so, including municipalities in Illinois such as Chicago, Evanston and Highland Park.

Proponents of the bill say raising the age will reduce the number of high schoolers who smoke.

“Reducing access to tobacco for teenagers will make a huge change in the health of that person,” state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, said on the Senate floor. She also noted that the state spends around $2 billion a year in Medicaid costs for smoking-related illnesses.

Republicans voted against the measure. State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, said “government just cannot change everything.”

“It is one of those times where we need to step back and say let people make their choices,” McCarter said, also noting 18-year-olds can sign up for the military and “possibly give your life for your country,” and shouldn’t have rights taken away.

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But state Sen. Terry Link, who co-sponsored the bill, said times have changed when it comes to acceptance of smoking.

“The number of lives we will save in the future will be astronomical because we will stop individuals from starting at a young age,” the Vernon Hills Democrat said.

Others looked ahead to another hot topic the state will likely take up: legalizing marijuana.

“I hope in the future that you remember this day and that you’ll remember about health as you vote on legalization of marijuana,” state Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, said. “Because my firefighter friend here says that all smoke in your lungs is bad for you.”

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