CHICAGO — The price of a pack of smokes rose by $1 across Cook County Friday, leading some smokers to fume about paying as much as $12 a pack while others said they were considering dropping the habit.
The new Cook County tax means the total tax on a pack sold in the city will reach about $6.66.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in a statement that the increase will raise $25.6 million in new revenue and help people leave cigarettes behind. The new revenue will go to Cook County’s hospitals and health care system, her office said.
The county estimates that roughly 10,300 Cook County residents will be “saved from premature smoking-caused death” because of the tax increase.
Citing a study from the anti-smoking group Tobacco Free Kids, officials also expect the tax hike to lead to a 7.2 percent decrease in youth smoking and prevent 18,400 kids from becoming addicted as adults.
Preckwinkle’s release also states that the price increase will help 16,100 current adult smokers quit.
While some smokers interviewed Friday were irked by the price hike, some of whom said it was an unnecessary intrusion, officials offered no apologies for an increase that will make Chicago the second-most expensive place to buy cigarettes in the country.
“We know it will be a point of irritation and anger for smokers,” Sandra Burke, of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, said in the release. “Frankly, that’s exactly what we’re counting on. Hopefully, this increase in the cost of cigarettes will be the straw that broke the camel’s back, motivating some smokers to quit this deadly habit.”
That was a lot of balderdash for Dough Nishimoto, 56, who was smoking with a companion outside the Wilson "L" stop in Uptown Friday morning.
Nishimoto said he doesn’t buy the rationale that raising prices will stop people from smoking.
“If it would have played a part in your reason to buy a pack, it would’ve happened five years ago” as prices steadily rose, he said. “They're preying on us.”
Nishimoto said he thinks it will increase the black market circulation and illegal sale of cigarettes.
Already, he said, some convenience stores have increased the price of loose cigarettes from 50 to 75 cents each.
Preckwinkle said in the release that the county is prepared for anyone who tries to circumvent the tax increase.
Cook County has tripled the number of tobacco inspectors and collected about $1.3 million in cigarette tax fines last year, according to the release.
An Uptown social worker, who asked not to be named, said she thinks the tax hike is unfair.
It is nobody’s business if she smokes, she said.
“I already pay enough taxes,” she said. “And on top of that I have to pay more?”
Chris Pulikowski still remembers when he moved to Chicago a few years ago and went to buy his first pack.
The 28-year-old body piercer said he was shocked when a pack rang up at $9.
“I told them, ‘I wanted one pack, not two,’” he recalled.
Pulikowski said the new tax is “pretty much forcing people to stop.”
He said he has already considered quitting, and the cost will now play a part.
“It makes me cringe every time,” Pulikowski said. “If anything, I’ll just go out to the suburbs.”
Getting off the Red Line Friday morning, Mary Foy, 50, lit a smoke and said she has tried to quit many times, and is now considering using an electronic cigarette.
She has in the past headed out to Indiana to get cigarettes.
While she thinks the hike will be good for people, she also said it was just a way for the cash-strapped county government to bring in more money.
“They want us to pay more money in this economic crisis,” she said.
Sean Harris, 45, said he had just paid $11.65 for a pack of smokes Friday morning.
“It makes me want to stop smoking,” he said of the new tax. “I can’t afford it, but it’s too hard to quit. So I’ll bear with it.”
Inside the MyShop convenience store near the corner of West Wilson and North Magnolia avenues in Uptown on Friday, owner Uday Karna said he thinks shops like his will be affected by the price hike.
Karna said he expects to be selling cigarettes soon in his store.
“Many businesses will be affected,” he said. “People do not want to pay $12 for a pack.”
Karna said he smokes roughly three packs of American Spirits a week.
“In the near future, I will quit,” he said. “I can’t afford $12 a pack.”