Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Proposed tax has smokers cough up $7

Evanston convenience store owners say they fear a decline in cigarette sales if the 75-cent cigarette tax proposed by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is approved in the next few months.

The tax could bring the average price per pack in Evanston to more than $7. Of that money, 43 percent would go to the government.

A press release from the governor’s office said the tax would raise an estimated $150 million to be put toward schools, healthcare and infrastructure.

The tax increase, the first by the state since 1999, will bring the Illinois tax on cigarettes to $1.73. Added to a proposed Evanston tax of 32 cents per pack and a Cook County tax of $1, which went into effect in April, smokers could be paying $3.05 to the government for every pack.

Eshwin Patel, owner of Delta Discount Store, 800 Main St., said a recent succession of tax hikes takes unfair advantage of smokers and businesses to finance government spending.

“It looks like where we’re going is going to kill the whole business,” Patel said. “There’s no end. The government is greedy. If tomorrow there’s no cigarettes in the market, every city and every county can declare bankruptcy.”

Patel also said smokers could alternatively buy cigarettes online or from Indiana. He said a pack of cigarettes costs $3.30 in Indiana and more than $7 in Illinois.

Mohammed A. Hakeem, whose son owns Evanston Pipe & Tobacco, 923 Davis St., said customers find other ways to buy cigarettes when taxes make prices too high.

“I have a customer from New York; he buys a special kind of English cigarette,” Hakeem said. “I asked him, ‘Can’t you get it in New York?’ He says, ‘No, it’s too expensive there.'”

Hakeem also said his customers might go to Indiana or Wisconsin to buy cigarettes.

Weinberg sophomore Grant Hetherton, who smokes a pack every week, said he was opposed to the new tax “on principle.”

“Just because it’s bad for me does that mean the government can tell me to stop?” Hetherton asked. “Why don’t we lower the speed limit to 25?”

Hetherton said he could support giving more money to schools but didn’t see the need to make that money by further taxing cigarettes. He said a pack costs $2 more in Illinois than in his home state of Wisconsin.

“They’re already way, way overtaxed,” Hetherton said. “Take (the money) from property taxes.”

Blagojevich also promised to overcome a $1.1-billion deficit to balance the budget, to give aid to the Chicago Transit Authority and clean the environment without any hikes in income or sales tax.

Becky Carroll, spokeswoman for the governor’s Office of Management and Budget, said the tax had two goals — cutting down on smoking and increasing revenues.

But some Evanston officials and Northwestern professors questioned the likelihood of the goals materializing. If cigarettes are taxed too much, fewer people will buy them, bringing in less revenue, said Kellogg School of Management professor David Dranove.

“Lots of good research shows that some people stop buying cigarettes when the price goes up,” Dranove said.

But Dr. Harvey Friedman, a pulmonologist at St. Francis Hospital and a clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Illinois, said smoking is so addictive that only 15 percent of cigarette users can ever quit. “No matter what the price is, people are going to find the money to pay for it,” he said. “One of the most difficult things to do is stop smoking.”

Jay Terry, Evanston’s director of public health with the Department of Health and Human Services, said he didn’t remember any major changes in the smoking behaviors of Evanston residents when taxes have increased in the past.

He echoed the view of some cigarette tax supporters that even if existing smokers aren’t discouraged, new smokers might be less likely to pick up the habit.

“If anything, a price increase hopefully deters someone from starting (smoking) in the first place,” Terry said.

Reach Lee S. Ettleman at [email protected].

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Proposed tax has smokers cough up $7