Are Illinois lawmakers once again trying to bolster up neighboring states’ economies? With newly proposed tobacco legislation that would drive consumers to purchase goods across the border, it sure seems that way.
The proposed legislation, which has passed in the Senate and is moving next to the House, would change the existing minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21, and if passed, Illinois would be the only state in the Midwest to raise the minimum age from the federally regulated age of 18. Not only is there no evidence that raising the minimum age prevents smoking, but doing so would also hurt Illinois’ communities, particularly those right on the border.
Our communities are already starving for economic opportunity, but instead of providing an environment for growth, lawmakers continuously create higher taxes that in turn make businesses less competitive. Having to deal with high fuel and sales taxes and already high tobacco taxes, local gas stations and convenience stores routinely watch as sales bypass them completely for more friendly prices in other states.
We need laws that strengthen Illinois businesses and communities, instead of hurting them with more legislation that has not been proven to be effective.
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If this tobacco legislation were to pass, it would just be another move to hurt local businesses and would lead to even fewer sales. Consumers are always looking for the easiest, most convenient way to obtain goods, and if that means crossing into neighboring states, Illinois misses out. When consumers purchase tobacco outside of Illinois, what is stopping them from purchasing other household goods, such as lottery tickets, food, candy and gas across the border as well, especially if they’re less expensive?
The fact is this proposed legislation doesn’t take our state’s financial well-being into account. This measure would advance the interests of other states that use the federal minimum age and allow them to have an even larger advantage over Illinois than they already have. And when it’s all said and done, we lose out on more than just sales, but much needed tax revenue.
The federal minimum age is set at 18 because there has been no indication that raising it would prevent individuals from smoking. Additionally, the Federal Tobacco Control Act of 2009 requires the FDA to study the public health implications of raising the minimum age, and their findings have just been submitted to congress. Before Illinois moves on this issue, lawmakers should first see what the federal government determines from the report, especially seeing as how moving the age from 18 to 21 seems like an arbitrary leap.
In our society, we entrust 18-year-olds to serve in our military, participate in elections and sit on juries. But by passing this law, Illinois would be stating that they should not be trusted to make the decision on whether to smoke or not. The age of adulthood is set at 18, but moving up the age seems to suggest otherwise.
It is important to support tobacco prevention methods, but the fact is that this measure does not tackle the issue in the right way. Instead of focusing on the minimum age, our state needs to focus on comprehensive underage access prevention legislation and invest in organizations that provide programs designed to promote healthy development.
Through these tactics we have seen cigarette smoking among eighth, tenth and twelfth graders decline from a peak of 28 percent in 1997 to a record low of 7 percent in 2015. In Illinois alone, tobacco use among 12 to 17-year-olds has declined from 13 percent in 2007 to less than 7 percent in 2014.
So again, I ask why Illinois lawmakers intend to pass this legislation. It seems the only ones that benefit are businesses right across the Illinois border who are more than happy to take our business.