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McHenry County smoke shops fear decline in sales after state raises tobacco purchasing age

Some local businesses fear decline in sales with Tobacco 21 law

Some McHenry County tobacco and e-cigarette retailers are concerned about a new bill banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone younger than 21.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation Sunday raising the legal age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21, making Illinois the first Midwest state to pass a so-called Tobacco 21 law.

Illinois will join a handful of states in banning the sale of cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco and nicotine-based products such as e-cigarettes and vaping materials to anyone younger than 21 when the law takes effect July 1.

Businesses will face fines and other sanctions for selling to underage customers. Some retailers fear they will face a decrease in sales.

Anthony Murphy, a sales associate at Vapor Hut in Crystal Lake, said he is concerned about a steep decline in sales.

“Anyone could get this stuff illegally,” Murphy said. “A lot of the market comes from younger people. You see younger people vaping because that’s what’s going on.”

Murphy, 24, said he started smoking as a young teenager and does not believe a law will curb vaping.

“The politicians are so blind to that,” he said.

Alton Topps manages Wise Guys Vapes in McHenry. Topps said a “substantial” amount of business will be lost.

“I get that it’s kind of becoming a problem in high schools and stuff, but when they’re an adult, they should be held accountable,” Topps said.

Jeff Baptista, owner of Cigarettes and More in Crystal Lake, said he only expects to face a slight decline in sales because he sells far more cigarettes and cigars than vaping materials. Baptista said young people are more likely to buy vape pens.

“I think it’s going to hit vape shops hard because it’s so popular with young folks now,” he said.

Baptista said anyone old enough to vote or fight for their country should be allowed to buy tobacco.

“I have a big, big problem with it,” said Baptista, who retired from the Navy. “You meet a lot of people who never smoked before they joined the military.”

Murphy expressed similar sentiments.

“It’s pathetic that you can get drafted and go serve your country at the age of 18, but you can’t even smoke a cigarette,” he said.

Erica Goodwin, an associate at SmokinClouds in Algonquin, said she opposes the bill on principle.

“I’m not even worried about the business side of it, although I’m sure my boss is,” she said. “I have a 19-year-old, and I think it’s a right for her. She’s old enough to vote. She voted last year, but now she can’t do things that other adults can do, regardless of what I want her to do.”

However, supporters have said the law will discourage teenagers from a deadly, lifelong habit.

Surrounded by lawmakers and advocates Sunday, Pritzker said he was “proud” to endorse such a “common-sense” initiative.

“This is about the health of our youth and the longevity of our citizens,” he said, “and if there are young people who will travel over state lines to buy tobacco products because they can legally buy them there, then I urge the surrounding states to pass Tobacco 21, too.”

About 95% of adult smokers begin using cigarettes before age 21, according to the American Lung Association.

Mike Patel, manager of Lottery Mart in Algonquin, said the age requirement combined with rising prices will deter some young people from smoking. He plans to enforce the law.

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” he said. “I follow the law.”

• Capitol News Illinois contributed to this report.

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