Purchasers of Tobacco Products in Illinois now must be 21 years old.

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On April 7, 2019, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill designed to raise the minimum legal age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21. Public Act 101-0002 amends the state’s current Prevention of Tobacco Use by Minors and Sale and Distribution of Tobacco Products Act (720 ILCS 675), and “Prohibits the purchase of tobacco products, electronic cigarettes, or alternative nicotine products by a person under 21 years of age” Public Act 101-0002.

The law comes from growing concern about the numbers of young people becoming addicted to nicotine through vaping and e-cigarettes. In a 2016 report, the U.S. Surgeon General’s office tracked the rapid increase in the use of vaping and e-cigarette by high school students.  The report shows a 900% increase between 2011 and 2015 in high school tobacco usage. This significant increase has prompted several legislative responses, including HB 345, in part because according to the Respiratory Health Association (RHA), 95% of smokers start smoking before the age of 21. Studies also show that the younger a person starts smoking, the more likely they are to become addicted.

Illinois joins a growing list of states and municipalities adopting “Tobacco 21” policies that focus on ensuring that young adults do not become addicted at such an early age. According to Governor Pritzker and advocates of the age increase, the bill “aims to reduce tobacco use among teens and young adults by preventing them from starting” (CNN).

The new law will face challenges in enforcement.  The changes take effect on July 1, 2019, and all establishments selling or offering tobacco products, electronic cigarettes, or other nicotine products will be required to verify that their customers are 21 years of age or older.

The new age requirement brings Illinois law on sales of tobacco products and e-cigarettes more in line with the state’s alcohol laws. These laws give establishments the right to refuse to sell regulated products to anyone unable to provide adequate proof of their age.  The new law also imposes stiff penalties for businesses who fail to request appropriate identification from their customers. In Illinois, “adequate proof” is defined as “a document issued by a federal, state, county or municipal government including, but not limited to, a driver’s license, selective service card or an Armed Services identification card” (“Just the Facts”).

The state has taken steps to make checking I.D.s for legal age easier by issuing driver’s licenses in two different designs. In Illinois, all “Under 21” driver’s licenses and identification cards have a vertical instead of horizontal orientation.  Under 21 drivers licenses also come with a red bar under the person’s picture that indicates the date when they will turn 21 years of age. The state has also included several security features designed to hinder the reproduction or alteration of an I.D.

Jordan Matyas

Jordan Matyas

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Jordan Matyas is a lawyer, lobbyist, and Founder of 1818 Legal, an Illinois professional licensing defense law firm he created in 2014. With more than 18 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including professional license defense, administrative law, land use and zoning, and state, local, and municipal law.

Jordan received his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois — Chicago School of Law and is a member of the Illinois Bar Association.