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‘Tobacco 21’ bills beginning to find fertile ground in Midwest state legislatures

by Jon Davis ~ April 2019 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In early April, Illinois became the first Midwestern state — and the latest nationwide — to raise the minimum legal sales age for tobacco products from 18 to 21.
The logic is straightforward: The U.S. surgeon general reported in 2012 and 2014 that the younger someone is when they begin using nicotine, the more likely they are to become addicted to it. So, proponents say, raise the age.
Hence SB 345, approved by the Illinois General Assembly in mid-March and signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on April 7. (A similar bill was vetoed last year by then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, who said it would just push kids to get tobacco from neighboring states or unlicensed vendors.)
Opponents of so-called “tobacco 21” laws cite the freedoms of adulthood — if 18- to 20-year-olds can opt to join the military and risk their lives, for example, they should be able to choose whether to smoke.
Rep. Tommy Brann, sponsor of HB 4039 in the Michigan House, says his bill aims to prevent 18-year-olds from passing tobacco to their younger cohorts.
“Smoking is a bad habit and we all know that. If we push [the legal age] up to 21, you don’t have that 18-to-16 relationship,” he says. “We used to have 18-year-olds who could drink, and we raised it back up to 21 because it got out of control.”
Kathy Drea, the American Lung Association’s advocacy lead for the upper Midwest, says Illinois cities’ success with tobacco 21 laws prove that point.
In 2014, Evanston became the state’s first city to enact a tobacco 21 ordinance; from 2015 to 2017, tobacco use by youth there dropped by 37.5 percent. Chicago followed suit in 2016 and registered a 36 percent decrease in youth tobacco use in just one year, Drea says.
“When you see results like that, you have to act,” she adds.
A University of Michigan white paper issued in March notes that tobacco 21 laws seem to be grounded in solid science.
It cites a 2015 study by the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which found that “increasing the [minimum legal age] for tobacco products will likely prevent or delay initiation of tobacco use by adolescents and young adults,” especially among 15- to 17-year-olds.
“The majority of underage people using tobacco products obtain them from social sources,” that study said.
Across the Midwest, tobacco 21 bills have been introduced in Indiana (SB 425), Minnesota (HF 33 and SF 463), and Nebraska (LB 149). Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, in his proposed budget for the coming biennium, recommends raising the minimum legal tobacco sales age to 21.
Elsewhere, eight states already have tobacco 21 laws in place; as of early April, bills were awaiting gubernatorial action in New York and Washington.


Article written by Jon Davis, CSG Midwest staff liaison for the Midwestern Legislative Conference Health & Human Services Committee.