Politics & Government

Illinois keeps smoking age at 18 after House fails to override Rauner’s veto

Making our next generation tobacco free

Smoking kills more than 1,200 people every day. Every tobacco-related death is replaced by two new smokers under the age of 25. The U.S. Surgeon General released her new report, "Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults."
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Smoking kills more than 1,200 people every day. Every tobacco-related death is replaced by two new smokers under the age of 25. The U.S. Surgeon General released her new report, "Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults."

The smoking age in Illinois is remaining at 18 years old.

The state House on Wednesday voted 62-45 in an attempt to override a veto of a bill to raise the smoking age to 21. However, the House was short of the 71 votes needed to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto.

The state Senate earlier this month voted to override Rauner’s veto.

Under the failed proposal, a person in Illinois would need to be 21 years old to buy tobacco products, electronic cigarettes and alternative nicotine products.

According the Department of Revenue, raising the smoking age to 21 would lead to a decrease in tax revenue. The department of revenue estimated there would be $35 million to $40 million less in cigarette tax income to the state and $6 million to $8 million less in sales tax revenue per year.

State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, voted against the measure.

Meier, who is not a smoker, said before the vote that he believes people will just go to Missouri to buy cigarettes and bring them back like people may do when it comes to buying fuel for vehicles.

“I believe all we’re going to do is send all of our cigarette purchases across the river like we’ve done with gas. People go over there, buy cartons of them and bring them back. I don’t think it’s going to do a thing about cutting back on youth smoking,” Meier said. “All of us along the state’s borders, we’re going to lose a lot of revenue by people going out of state, buying them and bringing them in, and they’re going to be smoking them.”

The Illinois General Assembly is back in Springfield for its annual veto session. The legislators are scheduled to in Springfield from Nov. 13-15 and Nov. 27-29, where they may override vetoes by Governor Bruce Rauner.

When Rauner vetoed the bill in August, he also expressed concern that the legislation would eliminate the penalty for minors possessing tobacco.

“(The penalty) provides the opportunity for education on the harmful effects of tobacco products, and is a disincentive for tobacco use,” Rauner wrote in his veto message. “Eliminating this penalty will make it harder for communities to effectively address the public health issues connected to tobacco products.”

Bill sponsor state Rep. Camille Lilly said raising the smoking age would help save lives and reduce health care costs.

“Tobacco 21 is important legislation in Illinois that will help prevent young people from beginning a lifetime of tobacco addiction,” Lilly said on the House floor on Wednesday.

“We’re deeply disheartened that our representatives failed to support youth health,” Shana Crews, spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said in a statement. “A tobacco 21 law would have been the next step toward reducing the harm Big Tobacco has inflicted on our communities.”

How they voted

Here’s how metro-east state representatives voted on the smoking bill:

  • State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea: Yes

  • State Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis: Yes

  • State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville: Yes

  • State Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Godfrey: Yes

  • State Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithon: Yes

  • State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville: No

  • State Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem: Yes

Two weeks ago, the state Senate voted to override the governor’s veto. Here’s how metro-east senators voted:

  • State Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville: Yes

  • State Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton: Yes

  • State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon: No

  • State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo: No

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referendums.


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