Tobacco 21 Law Going Into Effect In July

Jun 18, 2019

Starting in July, Illinois will not allow anyone under 21 to buy tobacco products. 

Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the measure in April, which will make Illinois the eighth state to raise the smoking age to this level. The 18-21 demographic is significant for both smoking habits and sales. Illinois Office of Health Promotion Deputy Director Conny Mueller Moody explains.

"These age groups are very heavily targeted by the tobacco industry, so by increasing the tobacco sales age to 21, it really does help prevent young people from starting smoking, and also reduces future deaths," she said.

It's also meant to curb a rise in youth smoking that has been facilitated by products such as e-cigarettes and vape pens.

Violet Ellington is a Nurse Practitioner with Northern Illinois University Health Services
Credit Chase Cavanaugh

"They look like inhalers or they look like a stick of gum, so it really is going undetected in those younger ages," says Violet Ellington, a Nurse Practitioner at Northern Illinois University Health Services. "And they're finding it's easier to use and easier to get away with because there's not the smell, there's not the cloud of smoke around them."

Ellington says college itself can provide an environment that drives young people toward tobacco.

"College can be a stressful time," she said. "It's also a time of experimentation, finding new social groups. So some people fall into smoking sometimes just kind of casually, and they maybe will tell us, 'I only smoke once a month,' or, 'I only smoke when I’m drinking.' So it's a good opportunity to bring up what that can lead to in the long run."

That's why healthcare providers continue to offer programs that help smokers kick the habit. Ellington says no matter how much they preach the benefits of quitting, it ultimately comes down to the individual. That's why she asks the question as bluntly as possible.

"Are you ready to quit? Most times, people say, 'No, not right now. I've thought about it. I've tried in the past. I've tried this. I didn't feel like it worked.' Some people have had good luck in the past because we do see a lot of people quit, but restart again."

Moody says the next step is getting the word out.

"Now we need to turn our attention to educating communities that the law becomes effective July 1, and also how can they educate youth and retailers around the new law and how to implement that," she said.

Matt Duffy is Executive Director of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce
Credit DeKalb Chamber

As for the retailers themselves, there's been a mixed reaction. Matt Duffy is Executive Director of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce.

"When you're in a college area and you depend on that audience a little bit, it may affect, obviously, some businesses a little more severely than others," he said.

Duffy compares the hike in smoking age to when smoking was banned inside restaurants. At the time, he said the ban did worry some people and businesses. But he says smoking habits have evolved.

"And you still see some people that do what they need to do, if that's something they want to do, and they find the time and the place to do it -- but obviously not indoors in restaurants or things like that," he said.

Ultimately, Duffy says the full effects of the law won't be visible for a while, and many businesses are taking a wait-and-see approach.