Advocates for Illinois’ shop owners are worried that a proposal to hike the state’s smoking age is more about discouraging cigarette sales than discouraging teenage smoking.
Tobacco 21 supporters say by raising the state’s smoking age from 18 to 21, teen smokers will have a harder time getting cigarettes.
To drive that point home, the proposed legislation includes a $200 fine for anyone who sells cigarettes to anyone under 21.
But Tanya Triche-Dawood, vice president at the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said the legislation eliminates Illinois’ current $25 fine for underage smokers caught with cigarettes.
“On one hand, the advocates are saying, we want to make sure minors don’t get access to these products,” Triche-Dawood said. “On the other hand, they are saying, if they do get access to the products, there won’t be any penalties for them.”
And that’s not just smokers between 18 and 21. Triche-Dawood said the Tobacco 21 legislation ends underage smoking penalties for all teens.
Retailers also are worried about competitors across state lines. Triche-Dawood said cigarettes already are cheaper in all of Illinois’ neighboring states. The average price per pack in Illinois is more than $11. And raising the smoking age could give people one more reason to shop elsewhere.
“Illinois is actually not an island,” Triche-Dawood said. “A lot of people like to think it is, but it’s not. Illinois is actually surrounded on all sides by other states. And those states compete for the spending dollars in Illinois.
People leaving Illinois to buy cigarettes is not just bad for shop owners. It could be terrible for the state.
Illinois’ nearly $2-per-pack cigarette tax is earmarked for Medicaid, as are some of the local cigarette taxes in and around Chicago.
As fewer people buy cigarettes in Illinois, that tax haul drops. The state’s tax receipts fell from $825 million in 2015 to $743 million in 2017.
Tobacco 21 supporters say making it tougher to get cigarettes will lead to fewer smokers and lower health care costs as a result.