Cook county raises tobacco taxes, but funds for smoking prevention fall short

Jillian Sandler

The cost of smoking has always been high, but this week in Cook County, the price climbed even higher.

Taxes on cigars, loose tobacco and smokeless tobacco increased as part of a policy implemented Thursday. Large cigars will levy a 25-cent tax and taxes on smaller cigars will increase by 5 cents. Smokeless tobacco will carry a 30-cent tax per ounce.

The county board approved the increased tobacco taxes as part of its 2012 budget and hopes to raise more than $9 million. Though the income will likely be a welcome financial boost for the county, some still lament that more money is not going toward prevention of tobacco use.

“The state of Illinois is in a lot of financial trouble right now, and in this case, prevention programs are some of the first things to be cut,” said Lisa Currie, Northwestern’s director of health promotion and wellness. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s not unusual.”

Although some universities have received government funds to implement smoking prevention measures, NU has not garnered the same help from Illinois. Currie said because NU is a private university, the state does not directly provide funding for smoke-free initiatives.

Though NU has not received any funding from Illinois directly, Currie said state funds allocated to the Evanston Health Department went partially toward benefiting NU students who wish to quit smoking.

Health department community intern Lindsey Kreutzer said the department received money from the Illinois Tobacco Free grant. Among the grant recipients is Break the Habit, a program which provides free nicotine patches to smokers who want to quit, Kreutzer said.

Since the program’s start in November, Kreutzer said Break the Habit has allowed residents to pick up the nicotine patches at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. However, Currie said NU Health Service is working with EHD to make the patches available at Searle Hall .

“We’re still working with the details and we don’t have the patches in hand yet, but I think by next quarter we’ll have that worked out,” Currie said.

Despite the availability of Break the Habit’s services, Currie said NU students have not made much use of the University’s current tobacco cessation program, which consists of six one-hour sessions. She added the few students she sees are on the brink of graduation.

“Many undergraduates smoke so infrequently that they don’t really view it as a problem, but sometimes the habit really sticks,” Currie said.

Communication junior Agata Bogucka smokes, but she said she thinks she will quit the habit when she finishes college.

“It’s definitely not something I intend on doing for the rest of my life, so once I’m out there trying to get a real job, (I’ll quit),” she said. “Once your body starts getting older, it can’t handle as much, either. Right now I’m young, but in a few years my lungs are going to start hating me.”

But Currie said quitting is usually a difficult feat to achieve and can take six or seven attempts to complete successfully. She said it is important the state does all it can to provide funding for prevention programs.

“I think they should always be doing more because it’s an effort we’ve seen a huge amount of success in (during) the last couple of decades,” she said. “There’s still some work to be done, but most people agree that smoking is bad for you. If I hand people some tools to work with in the future, then it’s still a partial win, even if they haven’t quit yet.”

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