(WKOW) — Advocates in Wisconsin hope action in Illinois will help keep young people from taking up a dangerous habit.
The governor of Illinois signed a bill into law Sunday raising the legal age to buy tobacco to 21 in that state, joining more than half a dozen other states in adopting the Tobacco 21 law.
At a news conference, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D, IL) called on others in the Midwest to do the same.
“This is about the health of our youth,” he said. “I urge the surrounding states to pass Tobacco 21.”
Experts say smoking can change the development of a young person’s brain, so they’re focusing on getting cigarettes and vaping devices out of their hands early.
UW researchers say if Wisconsin passed a similar law to raise the legal age to buy tobacco, it would help save thousands of lives.
Dr. Michael Fiore, director of the UW Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, says studies show if that were to happen nationwide, it would save 250,000 premature deaths.
Minnesota did an analysis and found it would save 10,000 lives in that state. Fiore says there would be similar results in Wisconsin.
“If we really want to protect our young people from becoming addicted to tobacco products, there’s nothing that is more effective. There’s nothing that’s more popular. There’s nothing that will help more people and save more young lives than increasing the age of purchasing tobacco products to 21,” he said.
Dr. Fiore says that law would also protect a generation of younger kids, who often get cigarettes and vaping devices from older friends.
40 percent of high school students reported vaping, which is higher than statistics for cigarettes, according to Fiore.
A Rock County group working to share the dangers of smoking with young people is encouraged to see our neighbors to the south taking action.
Youth2Youth 4 Change director Debbie Fischer says she expects her young advocates to work with businesses selling tobacco or vaping products in Beloit, if young people in Illinois cross the border to buy them in Wisconsin.
“It might be a really good project for us to make sure that some of those stores that are close to the state line area, that we’re giving a lot of promotion through their businesses,” she told 27 News. “A lot of businesses want to work side by side with us, because they don’t want youth picking this up either.”
We reached out to a spokesperson with Gov. Tony Evers’ office, to see if he would support a similar bill to raise the legal age to buy tobacco in Wisconsin, but we did not hear back.
Dr. Fiore says free help to quit smoking is available in our state. You can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit smokefree.gov.