Tobacco 21 in Illinois

Raising the minimum legal sales age of tobacco products from 18 to 21, or Tobacco 21, is a fast growing, nationally recognized youth tobacco prevention strategy. Almost all smokers begin smoking by age 21. By getting young people past that critical threshold for brain development and addiction, we can dramatically lower the number of people who start smoking and become addicted to smoking. This will lower smoking rates, prevent disease and save long-term health care costs. California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine and Oregon have all enacted statewide Tobacco 21 laws.

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Community-based Tobacco 21 ordinances are important building blocks toward a statewide Tobacco 21 law. These local laws raise awareness and build support across the state.

In Illinois, Tobacco 21 has already been adopted by over 30 municipalities–covering nearly one third of Illinois–including the Illinois communities of Aurora, Berwyn, Bolingbrook, Buffalo Grove, Chicago, Deerfield, Elk Grove Village, Evanston, Glen Ellyn, Gurnee, Highland Park, Hopkins Park, Lincolnshire, Maywood, Mundelein, Naperville, Oak Park, Peoria, Riverwoods, Skokie, Vernon Hills, Washington, Wheaton and Wilmette, and is being considered by dozens more. Lake County is the first in Illinois to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco in its unincorporated areas. More than 430 cities across 24 states, plus six states, have already adopted Tobacco 21.

Local support is a key component of getting a Tobacco 21 ordinance passed. RHA staff work to educate elected officials about preventing tobacco use. When residents like you voice support for Tobacco 21 with your community leaders, the wheels turn much faster. Conversations with local police, public health department staff and school officials have also proven helpful.

Find out if Tobacco 21 efforts are happening in your community by contacting Matt Maloney, Director of Health Policy, via email at [email protected] or by phone at (312) 628-0223.


House Bill 345/Senate Bill 21 – Tobacco 21

Original Sponsors: State Representative Camille Lilly and State Senator Julie Morrison

RHA has worked actively for the past several years to enact a statewide Tobacco 21 law. Legislation has been reintroduced in the Illinois House and Senate to raise the age to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 years to 21. Get the House bill’s current status and the Senate bill’s current status.

Read our full statement on former Governor Rauner’s decision to veto Tobacco 21.

Sign up to receive action alerts and we’ll notify you when legislators are working on the Tobacco 21 bill. We’ll provide talking points; you can send an email, write a letter or call your legislator’s office to share your support. If you can, plan to attend RHA’s State Lung Health Education Day in the spring!


The age of 21 is important for prevention.

  • 95 percent of smokers start before the age of 21.
  • Age 18-21 is when most smokers transition from experimental smoking to regular smoking.
  • The majority of underage tobacco users get their tobacco from a peer; however, 90 percent of those suppliers are themselves under the age of 21. Drawing the line at 21 gets legal tobacco purchasers out of high schoolers’ social circles.

Tobacco 21 saves lives and improves health.

  • In Illinois, 4,800 teens become new daily smokers each year; if these rates persist, 230,000 Illinois teens alive today will die prematurely from smoking.
  • The Institute of Medicine projects that Tobacco 21 could reduce overall smoking by 12 percent by the time today’s teenagers become adults; the biggest declines in tobacco use would be seen among 15-17 year olds (25%) and 18-20 year olds (15%).
  • Tobacco 21 would immediately improve community health by reducing premature births, SIDS and deaths due to smoking.

The economic impact of Tobacco 21 could be enormous.

  • Each year, tobacco use costs Illinois $5.49 billion in health care costs and $5.27 billion in lost productivity. The costs of tobacco use ultimately trickle down to Illinois consumers to the tune of $911 per household each year.
  • Economists project that nationally, Tobacco 21 could save $212 billion in medical costs.
  • The impact of Tobacco 21 on retail sales would be minimal since the 18-21 year old age group only accounts for 2 percent of overall tobacco sales.

Download RHA’s Tobacco 21 Fact Sheet for additional statistics and citations. Visit the Tobacco section of our Library for more resources.

Other Important Tobacco Control Initiatives

High-tech tax stamps will help reduce theft of tobacco products and increasing tobacco taxes reduces smoking rates. Policies to reduce secondhand smoke exposure are good for everyone, but particularly for those with lung health diseases.

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Join our E-Advocacy Team and receive Action Alerts about current policy change efforts.

Become an Advocacy Champion to share your personal story with lung disease with lawmakers.

Health Professionals for Healthy Lungs engages health providers across Illinois in advocacy for sound health care and clean policy.


For more information about these policy initiatives, contact Matt Maloney, Director of Health Policy, via email at [email protected] or by phone at (312) 628-0233.