Devon Testa won’t be affected if legislators raise the minimum age to buy cigarettes, but he would have a few years ago.
The 22-year-old Illinois Valley Community College student said he started smoking after getting his first job at age 16 and understood the risks.
“I think it’s reasonable,” Testa said of the current age of 18. “By that point, you’re mature enough to understand.”
The Illinois Senate disagrees, however, and voted Wednesday to raise the minimum age to buy cigarettes, vape products and other tobacco products from 18 to 21.
The vote passed on a 35-20 margin and will now head to the House.
Senators in support of the legislation hope to stop younger adults from picking up smoking and building habits earlier in life.
The World Health Organization states young adult smokers can see a lower level of lung function than those who have not smoked as well as a reduced rate of lung growth. It also has a number of other impacts such as increasing the risk of lung cancer and heart disease.
IVCC student Mitch Theisinger, 23, said he thinks the age raise makes sense as it’s the same age that’s required to buy alcohol.
“There’s just as many health risks (with cigarettes) and you’re getting long-term repercussions,” Theisinger said.
He added he’s only tried smoking once at age 22 and said he struggled with the addictive product despite not enjoying his first experience.
Akeel Elfereh manages Columbus Smoke Shop in Ottawa and agrees the age should be raised.
Despite the potential loss of business, Elfereh said individuals aged 21 and older are more mature to make decisions that could lead to life consequences such as lung cancer.
He added he personally would not want to see his children purchasing cigarettes at a young age.
Testa reaffirms that by age 18, most adults should be able to make those sorts of decisions on their own. He argues many young adults face the same stresses that others at earlier ages face, which leads to an earlier smoking age.
Testa also said there are likely many smokers who start off smoking younger than the current minimum age, meaning a change in the minimum age may not make much of a difference when it comes to discouraging young adults.
The CDC website says that nearly 9 out of 10 cigarette smokers first try smoking before age 18. They also state every day more than 3,200 youths aged 18 and younger smoke their first cigarette.
IVCC student Mitch Atwood said the minimum age should remain constant across the board, including joining the military.
“If you’re going to change one legal age then you should change them all because it doesn’t make sense otherwise,” Atwood said.
Atwood and his group of friends added they knew of people who started smoking prior to the current minimum age.
He argued regardless of what the legal minimum age is, a change of society’s view and proper education on smoking is what will discourage future smokers.
“They will always find a way to get them,” Atwood said. “If there’s a will, there’s a way.”