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Local

DeKalb County merchants react as ‘Tobacco 21’ bill sent to Gov. Pritzker

Meriva Krueger, 44, has been smoking since she was 12, and thinks that kids are going to find a way to smoke anyway, despite age restrictions, as is often the case with alcohol consumption.

Krueger spoke Friday at Best in the Smoker’s World LLC, 1565 DeKalb Ave., Sycamore, where she works selling tobacco and electronic cigarette products.

“I was a teenage smoker,” Krueger said. “I think if [young people] are going to smoke and want to smoke, they’re going to find ways just like I did.”

Smoke shops, gas stations and other stores that sell tobacco products could see an impact on their sales if the state of Illinois passes a bill commonly known as “Tobacco 21.”

“I think we are [worried],” Krueger said. “The majority of our products for vaping, [the customers] range from [ages] 18 to 25. We’ve very concerned about that.”

In Springfield on Thursday, the Senate passed the bill on a mostly party-line vote. It received the backing of only one Republican. 

A four-year effort by lawmakers and advocates to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products in Illinois appears nearly complete now that legislation approved by both chambers of the General Assembly is heading to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk.

Pritzker has not said definitively whether he will sign the bill, which changes the age to buy products containing nicotine – including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vapes and chewing tobacco, among others – from 18 to 21. 

Moez Hooda, 35, has been the owner of the Mobil station, 2400 Sycamore Road, at the corner of Barber Greene and Sycamore roads in DeKalb since September. He is the president of Ash Petroleum LLC, and also owns Alize’s Grill and another gas station in Rockford.

“I’m not worried about it, honestly,” Hooda said Friday. “I knew it was going to happen. [Young people] have access to fake I.D.s, so the store owners have to take precautions anyway.”

Hooda’s Mobil station also sells vape products in addition to cigarettes.

Krueger expanded on her frustrations with state age restrictions when compared with lighter limitations for young people entering the armed services.

“If our government can take them at 18, babies, and send them off to fight for us, then those babies, at 18, should be able to smoke,” she said.

DeKalb Deputy Police Chief John Petragallo has said if the bill becomes law, police will continue to educate the public and businesses as they usually do.

“We would still continue to do our tobacco compliance checks,” Petragallo said. “As laws change, we adapt, and just continue on.”

The legislation is House Bill 345.

The final vote in the Senate on Thursday was 39 to 16.

• Drew Zimmerman, reporter for the Northwest Herald, contributed to this report.

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