In July, the legal age to buy products with nicotine — including vapes, cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and chewing tobacco — will be raised from 18 to 21 in Illinois.
Local health groups have cheered the change, which they say will improve public health and save taxpayers money.
But local smokers, vapers and businesses are more ambivalent. According to them, the bill will be ineffective at clamping down on underage nicotine use — at least in the bistate Quad-Cities.
“If they really want it, they’re going to go to Iowa to get it,” said Kristina Williams, an employee at The Vaporosity Shop in Rock Island, near Augustana College.
For many Quad-Citians on the Illinois side, the drive to Iowa takes less than 10 minutes. Access to Iowa nicotine remains easy.
In Iowa, the age to buy tobacco remains 18. Locals predict that the new Illinois law will send underage buyers across the Mississippi River.
Businesses interviewed on the Iowa side, though, were not sure if they would be allowed to sell nicotine products to 18-20-year-olds who live in Illinois. Workers at some Iowa stores said they planned to sell to all customers over the age of 18, while others said they did not.
Chain stores with sites on both sides of the river will have more flexibility to adapt to the change. Jayde’s Vapor Lounge has one Illinois store, in Moline, and three others in Iowa.
“I don’t see business going down for us, particularly because we have so many stores,” said Joe Caissie, manager of the Moline store. “It’d be a problem if we didn’t have Iowa shops.”
According to health experts and lawmakers who favored a higher purchasing age, the new law targets 18-through-20-year-olds who supply their underage friends with nicotine products.
“I’ve never met a single smoker who waited until they were 18 to smoke. Not one,” said Brock Strang, owner of Kinetic Vapors, in Moline.
“Hopefully it doesn’t hurt us,” he said about the age hike, “but I’m unsure about the impact.”
At brick-and-mortar smoke shops in Illinois, employees of multiple stores said that most of their customers are over 21.
Still, vaping has boomed in popularity among teenagers. According to the Food and Drug Administration, from 2011 to 2017 e-cigarette use among high schoolers rose from 1.5% to 11.7%.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disability in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The passage of the Illinois law comes after former-Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed similar legislation last year. Illinois will be one of the first dozen states to implement such an age increase.
In Iowa, members of a state Senate subcommittee have begun work on a similar bill that would raise the age of buying, selling or possessing nicotine products from 18 to 21.
“If you have kids that are 18 in high school, that are buying it to for their friends, this is where a lot of this starts," Iowa State Senator Chris Cournoyer said to WQAD.
Some, in both states, have opposed efforts to raise the buying age, which only bans the sale and purchase of nicotine products to minors, because it eliminates penalties for underage possession.
“The point of the industry is to help people quit smoking,” said Strang about the budding field of vaping. “The state of Illinois is not gonna cripple a multi-billion-dollar worldwide industry.”