By Dan Petrella
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill Sunday that will raise the legal age for purchasing cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21 statewide.
"For Illinois, it will reduce costs for our state, it will make our schools and communities healthier places to learn and live, and -- most importantly -- it will save lives," Pritzker said in a statement.
Public health advocates have been trying for years to raise the legal age in Illinois, arguing that people are less likely to become smokers if they haven't started by the time the turn 21. Lawmakers approved the bill last monthfor the second time in as many years after then-Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed an earlier version last year.
When the law takes effect July 1, Illinois will join seven other states that have raised the smoking age to 21: California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Virginia.
Chicago saw a 36 percent decline in cigarette and e-cigarette use among 18- to 20-year-olds after raising its legal purchasing age to 21 in 2016, according to a 2017 Chicago Department of Public Health survey.
In addition to Chicago, 34 other localities in Illinois have adopted similar laws raising the legal age to 21. One takes effect June 1 in unincorporated Cook County.
In addition to raising the purchasing age, the bill Pritzker signed Sunday does away with penalties for underage possession. Businesses, however, will still face fines and other sanctions for selling to people under 21.
While the bill passed the legislature by wide margins with bipartisan support, opponents argued that it will hurt businesses and drive tobacco users to buy in other states or on the black market.
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