RHA Statement on Governor Rauner’s Veto of Tobacco 21

On Friday, August 24, 2018, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed Senate Bill 2332, legislation that would have substantially reduced youth smoking and saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars in future health care costs by raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 from 18.

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) is incredibly disappointed in Governor Rauner’s decision to veto this legislation after it passed the Illinois General Assembly.  The bill is also supported by a majority of Illinois residents. A recent study, conducted by Fako and Associates, showed that two out of three adults in Illinois support Tobacco 21, a figure that is even higher among current and former smokers.

A cornerstone of RHA’s work has been to reduce the toll of tobacco on our communities, particularly among our youth. At this point, 26 communities across the state have adopted local laws to raise the tobacco purchase age. These local laws cover more than 30 percent of the state’s population and will remain in full force and effect.

Tobacco 21 laws are important because 95 percent of adult smokers take up the habit before they turn 21. By raising the purchase age from 18 to 21, the law would have helped keep tobacco out of schools and away from teens.

“Too many kids are being exposed to tobacco products in their teenage years,” said Joel Africk, President and CEO, Respiratory Health Association. “If we can keep kids away from tobacco until they’re 21, they’re far less likely to become addicted and can live healthier lives.”

Tobacco 21 also would have yielded significant health and economic benefits.  The Institute of Medicine estimates that raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 could result in a 12 percent decrease in smoking rates by the time today’s teenagers become adults. RHA estimates that in Illinois alone the law would save $500 million in future healthcare costs and avoid $500 million more in lost productivity associated with smoking and tobacco related illnesses.

“Respiratory Health Association is undeterred.  We will continue to fight to protect kids across Illinois from smoking and tobacco addiction in the next legislative session. Tobacco 21 is the right thing to do,” continued Africk.

To date five states – California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey and Oregon – and hundreds of municipalities around the US have raised the tobacco purchase age to 21.

Prior to working on Tobacco 21, RHA advocated strongly for the Smoke-free Illinois Act, which passed in 2007. That legislation was the strongest statewide smoke-free law in the country.


Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader in Chicago since 1906. A policy leader, our organization remains committed to advancing innovative and meaningful tobacco control policies. We have been one of the state’s leading advocates for Tobacco 21 and Other Tobacco Product policies. For more information, visit www.resphealth.org.