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'Tobacco 21’ bill stalls in Illinois Senate

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SPRINGFIELD — Legislation raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products in Illinois was expected for a vote in the state Senate on Wednesday, but the sponsor decided to hold back because of hesitation on the part of new members.

State Sen. Julie Morrison, a Deerfield Democrat, said freshmen in her party had questions about the Tobacco 21 initiative. She said those members did not feel comfortable voting on the bill without being fully informed, so she held the measure.

In an effort to curb early addiction, the bill would prevent anyone younger than 21 from buying products containing nicotine, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vapes and chewing tobacco, to name a few.

This is the fourth time in as many years the legislation has been introduced. Each time, opponents generally argue if 18 is old enough for an Illinoisan to enlist in the military, vote for a political representative or get married, it should be old enough to purchase a cigarette.

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Republicans also take issue with the removal of penalties in current law for minors possessing nicotine products. Proponents argue the punishments should be for retailers who sell to minors.

The push to pass “Tobacco 21” legislation usually begins in the Senate, and fails to secure enough votes to become law in the House. In the 2018 session, the measure was successful in both chambers, but representatives in the House were unable to muster enough votes to overturn former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto.

About two weeks ago, state Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Oak Park, who sponsors the House version of the bill, said advocates were going to try a different approach this session.

“What we’re doing this time is running it through the House first, because we have more people to deal with,” she said. “In the Senate, there’s only 56 people — there’s 118 in the House. It’s easy to get it through the Senate.”

But Morrison said Wednesday she was still going to try to push her legislation through the Senate. It is unclear if the two chief sponsors are coordinating or working to advance their individual measures through their respective chambers.

Morrison’s legislation is Senate Bill 21. Lilly’s is House Bill 345.

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