SPRINGFIELD – Legislation raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products is scheduled for a vote in the Illinois Senate today, just two days after it successfully passed out of the House.
Bill sponsor Sen. Julie Morrison, a Deerfield Democrat, said it will be one of the first measures heard after the chamber gavels into session at noon. Her legislation raises the age to buy products containing nicotine – such as cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vapes and chewing tobacco, to name a few – from 18 to 21.
“There’s been a lot of pent-up support in the Senate to get this bill passed and I’ve been sitting on my hands waiting to get it done – we’re going to move quickly while the momentum is there,” she said. “I want to get this to the Governor’s office as soon as possible.”
The Illinois constitution mandates measures be “read by title on three different days in each house.” This bill is able to move so quickly through the legislative process because when it was approved by the House on Tuesday, the Senate’s gatekeeper committee voted to move it straight to the floor, according to a member of Morrison’s staff. That was its first reading.
On Wednesday, it was read into the record for the second time, queuing it up for a vote during Thursday’s session.
It also helped, Morrison and her staff member added, that the House measure is nearly identical to the one she proposed and got approved by a Senate committee in February.
While Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has not said conclusively whether he would sign the bill, his spokeswoman said in an email that he “looks forward to reviewing the legislation.”
Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, said at a news conference in February that Pritzker would approve the measure if both chambers passed it.
Cullerton was in the House Tuesday, looking on as Chicago Rep. Camille Lilly secured a victory in leading her chamber to support her “Tobacco 21” bill. The final vote was 82 to 31.
He is a long-time supporter of the measure, once joking during a press conference he was tempted to take the role of leader on the issue from Morrison.
“That’s an encouraging, bipartisan vote that puts us one step closer to finally enacting this important public health protection,” he said in a written statement after the House’s vote.
This is the fourth time in as many years the initiative was introduced in the General Assembly, where historically it succeeds in the Senate and fails in the House.
It made it to former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk in the previous session, but he refused to sign the bill, and only the Senate was able to muster enough votes to overturn his veto.
Lilly, her colleagues and advocates tried a different approach this session, moving the “Tobacco 21” bill in the House first where, Lilly said, she has “more people to deal with.”
She secured more Republican support than in the previous session, including that of Minority Leader Jim Durkin from Western Springs. During debate Tuesday, he said that while he has “been fighting it for most of my career,” he was switching his stance in part because of research into the “epidemic” of smoking.
Morrison said she has not spoken to Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, from Bloomington, about whether he plans to support the measure in that chamber Thursday, but that she believes there will be some Republicans that will vote in favor of “Tobacco 21.”
“We had some last time, and I’m hoping that grows with this next roll call,” she said.
Opponents have generally made the same two arguments this session, and are expected to do so during debate on the floor today. The first is that if 18 is old enough to vote for a political representative, serve on a jury, get married or draw up a will, it should be old enough to purchase and smoke a cigarette.
Detractors also fault the bill for removing penalties in current law for minors caught with tobacco products. Presently, they face the possibility of taking a “smoker’s education or youth diversion program” with their parents for a first offense, and fines or community service for subsequent violations.
Morrison said she is looking forward to today’s vote.
“I will be delighted to see it get up on the board and get all the green lights,” she said.
The legislation is House Bill 345.