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April: Bad Month for Smokers

By Kalyn Belsha in News on Apr 12, 2009 4:15PM

Photo by wallyg
Smokers in Illinois just can't seem to catch a break.

First came the largest federal tax increase on cigarettes in U.S. history -- an additional 62 cents per pack starting April 1. Then came a city council motion to get rid of designated smoking areas at four Chicago-area hospitals April 9. Now there's murmurings of an additional Illinois state tax that could raise the cost of a pack of cigarettes by $1 over the next two years.

Governor Quinn jump-started the discussion about increasing the state tax last month, estimating that by its second year the new tax could raise $365 million in revenue, which would help lower the now $11.6 billion state deficit.

Illinois State Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg (D-Evanston) put a twist on Quinn's plan, suggesting the new funds be directed to hospitals and nursing homes, which could increase federal matching funds from the stimulus package and raise almost $1 billion for the state, the senator said.

The bill passed the Senate on April 2 sans a single Republican's support, with a vote of 30-26. The bill has been referred to the House Rules Committee and is awaiting discussion once the House is back in session April 21. If it passes, Illinois smokers could expect to see the first taxes reflected in September 1 pricing -- an additional 50 cents per pack. The next 50-cent tax hike would come again September 1, 2010.

Northern Illinois has some of the highest cigarette taxes in the country, with Chicago, Evanston, Cicero and Rosemont among the top-ten most expensive places to buy cigarettes, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit. At $4.67, Chicago's combined federal, state and local cigarette tax ranks second only to New York's $5.26. Evanston's combined tax load comes in third at $4.49. [Daily Herald]