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Doug Finke

Cullerton: Lawmakers will try to override Tobacco 21 veto

Senate President John Cullerton said Tuesday the Legislature will try to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a bill raising the legal age to buy tobacco in the state to 21.

Cullerton acknowledged that securing enough votes to override the veto will be difficult. However, if the effort fails this fall, Cullerton said another attempt to raise the age will be made next year, and he will lead it.

“If [an override] is not successful, we will reintroduce this bill and try to pass it as soon as possible next year,” Cullerton said, adding that he plans to “steal” it from Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, this year’s principal sponsor.

Securing an override will be difficult. The bill got 35 votes in the Senate and it needs 36 to override the veto. In the House, the bill got only 61 votes. It needs 72 to override.

The bill raises the legal age to buy tobacco to 21. In his veto message, Rauner said the Tobacco 21 law will not keep the product out of the hands of teens.

“Raising the age people can purchase tobacco products will push residents to buy tobacco products from non-license vendors or in neighboring states,” Rauner said in his veto message.

Proponents of the bill disputed that argument at a Statehouse news conference Tuesday. The city of Chicago and 26 other communities have passed local ordinances raising the tobacco age to 21.

“There have not been any border issues,” said Kathy Drea of the American Lung Association in Illinois.

However, Rob Karr of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association doesn’t believe it.

“When they did the sweetened beverage tax in Cook County last year, there was significant upticks just across the border and downticks on the Cook County side. It does happen,” he said. “If they’re making the trip for sweetened beverages, they’re certainly making the trip for tobacco.”

He said two-thirds of the state’s population lives within 45 minutes of a border.

In Chicago on Tuesday, Rauner defended his veto of the bill.

“Eighteen-year-olds are adults in our society,” Rauner said at a bill-signing ceremony. “They choose to vote, they choose to serve in our military. If they choose to use a particular tobacco product, that’s their freedom of choice.”

Cullerton, though, said he told Rauner the real point of the bill was to keep tobacco out of the hands of 18-year-olds who might pass it on to even younger children.

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