Illinois Lawmakers Want To Triple Tobacco Tax, Pritzker Supports Idea

May 08, 2019
 
Senate President John Cullerton, surrounded by health professionals and fellow Democrats, calls for higher taxes on tobacco products.

Senate President John Cullerton, surrounded by health professionals and fellow Democrats, calls for higher taxes on tobacco products.

Jaclyn Driscoll/NPR Illinois

In January, Gov. J.B. Pritzker proposed several tax increases to help balance Illinois' budget. One of those proposals was a 32-cent hike on a pack of cigarettes, but some of his fellow Democrats want to triple that.

On Tuesday Senate President John Cullerton laid out a proposal he plans to introduce in the coming weeks that would raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1, bringing the total statewide tax to $2.98. 

Cullerton referenced polling provided by advocates of the idea that showed most Illinoisans supported the idea. 

"There's one revenue raiser, the cigarette tax," said Cullerton. "And for that matter, e-cigarettes taxes, where the public actually supports a tax increase. There's not very many of those. This is probably the only one." 

In the past, critics have argued this will cause Illinois to lose money by encouraging tobacco users to cross into neighboring states with lower taxes. 

Cullerton said the proposed hike would actually save the state money by lowering healthcare costs. 

If we can eventually have everybody stop paying for cigarettes because they're too expensive, we're going to be saving billions of dollars,"Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago)

"If we can eventually have everybody stop paying for cigarettes because they're too expensive, we're going to be saving billions of dollars," he said. 

The plan would also increase the taxes on other tobacco products at 64 percent of the wholesale price. In a statement, Victoria Vasconcellos, president of the Smoke Free Alternatives Coalition of Illinois, said this tax will make it harder for smokers to quit despite the added cost. 

"We have seen that vapor products are a factor in the unprecedented decline in cigarette sales," said Vasconcellos. "That’s why classifying vapor products in the same category as cigarettes is a backward step for public health, and adults should not be penalized for making healthier choices."

Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokesperson for Gov. Pritzker, said he would support the steeper tax. 

Story source: Illinois Public Radio