This year, we are celebrating 10 years of a Smoke Free Illinois. This law, while controversial when it was being passed, has become a new, healthier norm. Most young adults barely remember when smoking was allowed everywhere and cannot comprehend people smoking in restaurants and public spaces.
Now, it is time for another new, healthy norm: Tobacco 21. Why 21? Increasing the minimum legal age for sale of tobacco products to 21 years of age will significantly reduce youth tobacco use and over time save thousands of lives.
For 17 years, the teen tobacco use rate in our state was on the decline thanks to education and strong laws that kept this addictive and deadly product out of the hands of our youth. Now, because of heavy advertising, easy access, concealable electronic cigarettes and fruit and candy flavors, tobacco use is once again increasing among Illinois teens. In fact, in 2015 (the latest data available) 32.8 percent of Illinois high school youth reported using tobacco products.
Tobacco 21 laws focus on protecting youth from the death and disease associated with tobacco use. Nearly 95 percent of addicted adult smokers started smoking before they turned 21. If we can keep young people from getting hooked on tobacco products before their 21st birthday, they will likely never become addicted.
Tobacco 21 is our opportunity to stop the tobacco industry from capturing today’s young people as tomorrow’s customers. The American Lung Association encourages elected officials at all levels to support Tobacco 21 policies.
Kathy Drea, Vice President, Advocacy
American Lung Association in Illinois
May 1, 2018