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Smoking Age to Remain

A state legislative strategy to reduce teen smoking had two simple parts: raise the legal smoking age to 19 and then help thwart underage buyers by creating a special driver's license for anyone younger. But the Illinois Legislature didn't see it that way.

Lawmakers ended up shelving the change in smoking age, but sent Gov. George Ryan a bill creating special under-19 driver's licenses ? even though 19 marks no special privileges in Illinois, Reuters reported.

The drinking age is 21, and the legal age to buy tobacco is 18, so the new license would not help clerks. In fact, it could create confusion and extra hassle for retailers and older teens alike. Supporters, even while acknowledging the bill is flawed, contend a new license would help. An association of retailers may ask the governor to make changes anyway.

David Vite, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said his group supports the idea of a special license for people who are too young to buy tobacco. But he suggested the license should match the smoking age and said the association is talking with the bill's sponsors to see if they should recommend changes.

The bill's sponsor said he would like Ryan to sign it as is. "I think it's a good enforcement tool in and of itself," Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago) told Reuters. "Regardless of what the smoking age is in this state, the ability for merchants to more seriously enforce the smoking age is obviously going to be a good thing."

Fritchey, to date, has crafted two proposals to keep cigarettes away from more teens. He wanted to make Illinois the fourth state nationally to set the smoking age at 19 so high-school students would be less likely to smoke and influence their underage peers, the report said.

Fritchey also wanted to create a special driver's license to frustrate illegal buyers. He set the special license age limit at 19 to go along with raising the smoking age. Both proposals breezed out of the House in March, but the plan hit a snag in the Senate.

Meanwhile, Fritchey worked to push the special driver's license bill to the governor's desk. It coasted without opposition through the Senate and now sits on Ryan's desk. If the bill is signed into law, Secretary of State Jesse White's office plans to add a line on teenagers' licenses indicating the date when they turn 19. Drivers would get a new license at 16, 19 and 21.

Ryan is still reviewing the bill, the report said.
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