Big tobacco (copy)

Are you truly an adult when you turn 18?

That's the conundrum presented by the Illinois General Assembly in approving public policy legislation that hikes the legal age for buying tobacco, nicotine and related vaping products from 18 to 21, following years of work by health advocacy groups. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has yet to sign the bill into law. 

Let's be clear: We applaud efforts to reduce the number of people smoking. It's nasty, smelly and — given enough time — probably lethal habit that has cost too many lives. It is a public health nightmare, which is why Massachusetts, California, New Jersey, Oregon, Maine, Hawaii and New Jersey have the same restriction.

There is a very logical argument that putting roadblocks in place to inhibit people from getting hooked on nicotine is good for all of us. Health insurance pools will benefit from fewer smokers. There also is evidence that increasing the tobacco age in Chicago caused the smoking rate to plummet.

But this legislation, known as "Tobacco 21," gives us pause for a few reasons. While well-intentioned, it continues a troubling glide path of treating young adults like children, not to be trusted with making decisions.

This is tricky because, despite maybe evidence to the contrary, an 18-year-old is an adult — a full-fledged, taxpaying adult, with all the rights and responsibilities therein.

At 18, he or she can serve on a jury, get a credit card, file a lawsuit, vote, join the military, play the Lottery, be charged as an adult in a crime, rack up student loan debt and move out.

But he she can't be trusted to buy cigarettes or alcohol. (For the record, Illinois is poised to make recreational pot legal for those 21 and older as well.)

Seems like an odd disconnect.

We trust you to do this. But not this.

You can make this decision, but we'll fence off this one until you're older.

This and that. Not this and not that.

OUR VIEW: Ta'Naja Barnes, 2, of Decatur, died. We have to defend the defenseless.

As a society, we can't have it both ways. Bad choices are a side effect of our American system of personal choice. If you're an adult, it's your freedom to make ill-advised, short-sighted or just plain dumb choices whenever you want, assuming your stupidity doesn't affect anyone around you or breaks a law.

That's what's wrong with the nanny-state tobacco rule -- it assumes that someone's logic suddenly flashes on in the nanosecond between one's 20th and 21st year.

Bam! Now I get it.

We know that's not realistic.

Should you smoke?


Can lawmakers regulate common sense?


When you turn 18, you should able to make decisions, even ones you will probably regret later in life. If you can pick a president and fight for our country, you ought to be able to buy a pack of cigarettes.

Or to put it another way, what lifestyle choices will lawmakers try to regulate next?

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