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Illinois Senate approves ‘Tobacco 21’ bill

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate on Thursday approved legislation to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products, just two days after it successfully passed out of the House.

Sen. Julie Morrison’s legislation raises the age to buy products containing nicotine — such as cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vapes and chewing tobacco — from 18 to 21.

“There’s been a lot of pent-up support in the Senate to get this bill passed and I’ve been sitting on my hands waiting to get it done — we’re going to move quickly while the momentum is there,” said Morrison, D-Deerfield.

The Senate voted 39-16.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has not said conclusively whether he would sign the bill. His spokeswoman said in an email that he “looks forward to reviewing the legislation.”

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said at a news conference in February that Pritzker would approve the measure if both chambers passed it.

Cullerton was in the House Tuesday, looking on as Chicago Rep. Camille Lilly secured a victory in leading her chamber to support her “Tobacco 21” bill. The final vote was 82 to 31.

“That’s an encouraging, bipartisan vote that puts us one step closer to finally enacting this important public health protection,” he said in a written statement after the House’s vote.

This is the fourth time in as many years the initiative was introduced in the General Assembly, where historically it succeeds in the Senate and fails in the House.

It made it to former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk in the previous session, but he refused to sign the bill, and only the Senate was able to muster enough votes to overturn his veto.

Opponents have generally argued that if 18 is old enough to vote, serve on a jury, get married or draw up a will, it should be old enough to buy and smoke a cigarette.

Detractors also fault the bill for removing penalties in current law for minors caught with tobacco products. Presently, they face the possibility of taking a “smoker’s education or youth diversion program” with their parents for a first offense, and fines or community service for subsequent violations.

The legislation is House Bill 345.

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