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Chicago’s Cigarette Tax Hike Sailing Through Committees

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 75-cent cigarette tax hike is plowing through its opposition.
November 20, 2013

​CHICAGO – Despite stiff opposition to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed 75-cents-a-pack cigarette tax increase, the measure “sailed though” City Council committee meetings earlier this week, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

While Emanuel had considered a graduated tax increase — 25 cents per pack in each of the next three years — his budget director, Alex Holt, said Emanuel ultimately rejected the idea because he felt the smaller increments would not have as powerful an effect on deterring smoking.

“When you do a small, graduated increase, it allows for both the cigarette companies as well as for individuals to adjust to that price. And it doesn’t have the same impact in terms of the decrease in the number of people who are smoking,” Holt said. “Depending on how low you go and how far you do the graduation, we might not see much of a public health impact at all.”

Ald. Leslie Hariston said that the law’s major effect will be a drop in cigarette tax revenues, citing a high of $32.9 million in 2006 to $16.5 million this year.

“People are still going to Indiana. People are still going outside of Cook County. . . . It’s kind of like smoke-and-mirrors. We’re not really impacting what we need to impact,” Hairston said. 

Meanwhile, Ald. Jason Ervin said the black market for loosie cigarettes is worse than it is for illegal drugs, and that a further tax increase will only make it worse.

“I’m a little taken aback that the Health Department has given a [smoking] assessment, but the Police Department has not given an assessment on what they believe the impact of this tax will be on citizens, especially those already dealing with higher crime rates in other areas of the city,” said Ervin, who cast the only “no” vote against the revenue package.