SPRINGFIELD — Efforts to curtail smoking will get double boost Monday when higher taxes and a new age restriction become law.
Tobacco 21 takes effect Monday, raising the age at which tobacco can be legally purchased in Illinois to 21.
Also Monday, the tax on a pack of cigarettes will go up by $1, raising the state tax to $2.98 a pack. The cigarette tax increase was part of a gambling expansion bill signed into law Friday by Gov. JB Pritzker.
Included in that bill is a first time ever tax on e-cigarettes sold in Illinois. The state will impose a 15 percent tax on the wholesale price of the products.
“We consider cigarette taxes to be a win, win, win win,” said Kathy Drea of the American Lung Association. “Increasing the price of tobacco products is the number one most effective way to decrease smoking prevalence rates among both youth and adults.”
Preventing people from starting the habit in the first place is also a goal of anti-smoking proponents and an aim of the Tobacco 21 law. Beginning Monday, a person will have to be 21 years old to legally purchase tobacco products. Supporters of the law said it will serve to keep tobacco out of the hands of younger people and improve the chances they’ll never start smoking.
“Even the tobacco companies at the national level decided to be for it,” said Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, an avid proponent of curtailing tobacco use. “Not getting kids hooked on these things in the beginning is what in the long run saves the state so much money in health care costs.”
Critics of the law said they’re skeptical the law will actually keep tobacco out of the hands of kid. Those skeptics included former Gov. Bruce Rauner who vetoed an earlier version of the law while he was in office, Rauner also said the law would hurt businesses in border areas of the state as people went to neighboring states to buy cigarettes.
That same argument applied to the extra $1 per pack state tax on cigarettes that takes place Monday. It will give Illinois the 10th highest per pack tax on cigarettes according to the Campaign For Tobacco Free Kids.
Drea said research shows nearly 49,000 smokers will be induced to quit because of the higher tax and nearly 29,000 kids will be deterred from taking up the habit.
Pritzker called for a tobacco tax hike as part of his budget proposal, but he only sought 30-cents a pack. Cullerton, though, pushed for the bigger increase.
“I’ve learned from the advocates that if you have incremental increases for cigarettes, it doesn’t have the same effect,” Cullerton said. “If you have one big jump like a dollar, a whole bunch of people quit.”
To that end, Drea said people wanting to quit can get help at the Illinois Tobacco Quitline at 1-866-784-8937. The line is available from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
“This is the perfect opportunity for people to use the quit line. Generally, when the prices go up, that’s when people want to quit,” Drea said.
Cullerton also said it is significant the state put a tax on e-cigarettes.
“It is a nicotine product owned by the cigarette companies,” Cullerton said. “It is not a cessation product.”
Cullerton’s view runs counter to the argument of e-cigarette manufacturers who contend making the product more expensive will deter people from using e-cigarettes to quit using tobacco.
San Francisco recently took it a step further and outright banned the sale of e-cigarettes. Some public health experts criticized the idea of a ban because tobacco products are still available there. Cullerton said a lot more information is needed before there would be any consideration of a statewide ban in Illinois. However, he did say he wants to increase the tax on e-cigarettes.
“It is really low,” Cullerton said. “The goal would be to raise that dramatically to where it would be similar to tobacco. It will be my life’s mission when we come back into session.”
Drea said her organization hasn’t talked much about future objectives, although she said a ban on flavored e-cigarettes may be a goal.
“Our number one priority for next year is to include e-cigarettes in Smoke Free Illinois,” she said.
Doing that would make it illegal to use e-cigarettes in indoor public places the way tobacco is prohibited. A bill to do that was approved by a Senate committee late in the spring session, but it stalled before it came up for a vote in the chamber.