A new proposal by a Democratic senator out of Chicago is hoping to raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21.
At a news conference on Thursday, Sen. John G. Mulroe, D-Chicago, pitched the idea and cited numerous statistics that suggest the change would have a positive impact on public health. Here’s a look at some of the key points Mulroe mentioned during his news conference:
- A two-pack-a-day habit (based on Chicago prices) can cost up to $24 a day, or more than $8,700 a year.
- Smoking is also expensive to the state. A projected $5 billion is spent annually in Illinois to treat smoking-related illnesses, and $2 billion of that comes from taxpayer supported Medicaid funds.
- Smoking is a deadly habit, and proof is on every package in the form of the U.S. surgeon general warning.
- Previous research has shown that raising the legal age for purchase and possession of tobacco products helps cut use among young people. He cited one study that said if people make it to 21 without smoking, they will likely never pick up the habit.
“Two billion dollars of the Illinois state budget is spent treating Medicaid recipients with tobacco-related diseases,” said Kathy Drea, who works for the American Lung Association in Illinois. “That cost alone is one of the main, right reasons this bill should be passed. Illinois should be doing everything it possibly can to reduce tobacco use and the associated disease, death and cost.”
The bill, known as Senate Bill 3011, would make it a petty offense for anyone under 21 to be in possession of tobacco products, and it would levy penalties against businesses that sold to underage persons.
It should come as no surprise that the proposal was met with some opposition, but Mulroe said it hasn’t come from smokers. In fact, he claims that many smokers have told him they fully support the change.
“The smokers tell me, ‘It’s a good bill, John,’” and when he asks why, they respond, “I wish I’d never started smoking.”
Others say that the age of 18 marks a certain passage in a person’s life. An 18-year-old can enlist in the services, vote for president and be charged as an adult for a crime, so why is the government trying to say they shouldn’t be able to smoke a cigarette?
“[The proposal] restricts the personal liberties of adults, which people who are above the age of 18 are, period,” said Anthony Fisher of Reason.com, a branch of the libertarian Reason Foundation. “They can be charged as adults under the law, they can fight and die for their country, and they are required to pay taxes. They’re adults, and they are entitled to make their own decisions, even if they are ill-advised decisions like taking up cigarette smoking,” he said.
Fisher noted that smoking has a significant public-health cost, but so do other things.
“If we’re going to go there, let’s go further — let’s make it so that nobody under 21 can purchase sugar,” he said. “That will make it hard for people to develop the sugar habit, (and) it will make it harder for people to develop diabetes. Let’s just never stop using the public good as an excuse to curb people’s choices. We can go on forever with this.”