SYCAMORE – Colton Bradt, a freshman at Kishwaukee College, finds it funny that signs on the smoke-free campus read “no smoking or tobacco,” when the vaping products he uses do not qualify as either.
Although Bradt feels there are lines to be drawn between tobacco and vape products, if a bill in the Illinois Senate to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 is passed, it will cover all manner of nicotine products or devices.
The bill was filed in January by state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, and currently has six other sponsors. On Wednesday, it was voted out of the Public Health Committee by a 6-2 vote and is awaiting a second reading in the Senate.
“Adults rarely pick up a cigarette for the first time,” Morrison said in a statement. “Most current smokers first tried tobacco by the age of 18, making reducing access to tobacco for teenagers so important.”
A similar bill has also been introduced in the House with 19 sponsors. That bill also awaits a second reading after being voted out of the Health and Healthcare Disparities Committee on Feb. 6.
If passed, the legislation will make Illinois the sixth state to raise the age to buy tobacco to 21. Chicago and a number of Illinois communities have already approved the measure on a local level. Those municipalities include Deerfield, Maywood, Lincolnshire, Vernon Hills, Berwyn, Buffalo Grove and unincorporated Lake County.
Muhammad Mustafa, owner of Best in the Smoker's World at 1565 DeKalb Ave. in Sycamore, said he was “pissed” when he learned about the legislation.
“I am concerned about how it would affect business,” Mustafa added. “A lot of college kids come through here, and this is a college town, basically.”
He said this is especially troubling since e-cigarette products are a big part of his business and he has already seen a downward trend in 18-year-olds buying packaged cigarettes.
“I’ve been selling vaporizers for about nine years, and it’s proven to be healthier," Mustafa said. "I know that for sure because people are saying that haven’t had a cigarette in years and can breathe better. I’ve already seen a major decline in kids not smoking packed cigarettes, and it’s healthier and cheaper in the long run.”
Thomas Allen, owner of Galaxy Starship, a smoke shop at 2814 DeKalb Ave. in Sycamore, said the legislation will not be that bad of a thing to do – if the purchasing age for vapor products is left at 18.
“Young people have taken to e-juices so much better than tobacco,” Allen said. “It’s not a gateway drug to smoking. It’s almost a way to squash out smoking in young people, but the lobbying by the tobacco industry is what got it to be the same.”
Since Galaxy Starship does not sell packaged cigarettes, Allen said he will try to turn customers coming in for them to vapor products. He said that half of his store’s e-liquid business is for zero nicotine products.
“Most of the 18- to 21-year-olds are vaping with zero nicotine,” Allen said. “That being included with the tobacco makes no sense.”
Mustafa said his store also sells zero-nicotine options for all of its e-liquids.
Should the legislation pass, Allen said his business will survive, but no store owners are going to like it.
According to Chicago public health officials, the number of high school-age smokers has dropped significantly since the city raised its purchasing age in 2016.
The Chicago Department of Public Health’s Healthy Chicago report showed 6 percent of Chicago high school students reported smoking cigarettes in 2017, which is down from 13.6 percent in 2011.