April 7, 2019 – Chicago, IL – Today Governor J.B. Pritzker made an important stride toward a healthier future for Illinois as he signed a bill into law that raises the age to purchase tobacco products in the state from 18 to 21 years old. Special thanks to Rep. Camille Lilly who sponsored the bill and Senator Julie Morrison who championed the statewide “Tobacco 21” legislation.
A cornerstone of RHA’s work is to reduce the toll of tobacco on our communities, particularly among our youth. 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 will help keep tobacco out of schools and away from teens.
“Tobacco 21 laws, like other laws inspired by public health, save thousands of lives a year. Tobacco 21 in Illinois will reduce youth smoking and, as a result, mean fewer adult smokers, too,” said Joel Africk, president and chief executive officer of Respiratory Health Association. “Ultimately the new law will save more lives than Alcohol 21 and most other public health measures like it.”
Tobacco 21 will yield 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.
The new law has been strongly supported by a number youth advocates who joined RHA on advocacy visits and testified at local hearings. “I lost my dad in 2015 when I was 10 to lung disease and lung cancer,” says 14-year-old Ian Piet of Tinley Park. “Because of that, I am supporting tobacco 21 and other measures to help prevent lung disease.”
Respiratory Health Association estimates statewide Tobacco 21 legislation in Illinois will save the lives of more than 24,000 children alive today who otherwise would have died from tobacco-related illness. In addition the policy will save $500 million in future healthcare costs and avoid $500 million more in lost productivity associated with smoking and tobacco related illnesses.
Tobacco 21 previously passed the General Assembly in 2018, but then-Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed the measure. A majority of adults in Illinois support the law. Growing support for Tobacco 21 led to thirty-six communities across the state adopting local laws to raise the tobacco purchase age. These local laws cover approximately 30 percent of the state’s population and paved the way for statewide action.
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 Illinois 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.