The push to raise Illinois’ smoking age could put lawmakers and parents in a couple of difficult situations.
Advocates and lawmakers say it’s simple: Raise Illinois’ smoking age to 21, fewer people will start smoking, and the state will be healthier.
But the larger conversation is a bit tougher.
For example, Illinois lawmakers are also looking to legalize recreational marijuana.
So, what’s the message? That the state wants to sell a product that is currently illegal, while restricting sales of a product that’s allowed by law?
Jodi Radke with the Campaign for Tobacco Free kids said the answer simply is “yes.”
“Voters believe that tobacco is actually much more harmful than marijuana,” Radke said of the most recent polls that her group has done. “So the question then becomes, what do we communicate with our kids? If we have, in states where recreational marijuana use is permissible, the alcohol threshold to purchase is 21 and the threshold for recreational marijuana is 21, and the threshold for tobacco is 18. And that’s arguably the most harmful and addictive product of the three.”
Raising Illinois’ smoking age also could cause some fiscal concerns because of the state’s cigarette tax.
But state Sen. John Mulroe, D-Chicago, said at a statehouse press conference that hiking the smoking age will save people money.
“Smoking is costly to the individual. Packs of cigarettes are not cheap,” Mulroe said, noting that cigarettes are most expensive in Cook County and Chicago. “They’re $10 or $15 a pack. If you do the math, you smoke one or two packs a day, that almost $8,000. That’s a lot of money for an individual. A lot of hard-earned money.”
But cigarettes are worth a lot of money to the state of Illinois and many local governments.
Illinois adds a $1.98 tax to every pack of cigarettes sold in the state. Then there are local taxes. Chicago’s cigarette tax is $1.18 per pack. Cook County’s cigarette tax is an additional $3 per pack.
Illinois lawmakers predicted the $1.98 cigarette tax would raise nearly $1 billion for Medicaid and other healthcare services, but the reality is falling short.
The Illinois Department of Revenue says cigarette taxes have fallen each of the past three years, from $825 million in 2015 to $743 million last year.
Raising the smoking age, thereby stopping 18-year-olds, 19-year-olds, and 20-year-olds from smoking, would reduce that tax haul even more. Advocates didn’t have a guess as to how much the state would lose.
Mulroe said Illinois could save $2 billion in medical costs, but that would be years down the road.
The proposal, Senate Bill 2332, is due for a full statehouse hearing Feb. 6.