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Chicago Cigarette Tax Proposal Would Be Nation's Highest

By Alex Parker | October 20, 2013 1:30pm
 The mayor's proposal of adding a $.75 to cigarettes would give Chicago the nation's highest cigarette tax.
The mayor's proposal of adding a $.75 to cigarettes would give Chicago the nation's highest cigarette tax.
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Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

CHICAGO — Smoke if you got 'em. But it soon might cost you even more.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing to add an additional $.75 tax to cigarettes, a City Hall source confirmed, which would make Chicago the nation's most expensive city in which to buy cigarettes.

The mayor's proposal, a "modest increase," sources said, would pay for vision exams and eye care for 45,000 Chicago Public Schools students, expanding the program by 50 percent.

In March, the county adopted a dollar increase on cigarettes. Should the mayor's proposal move forward, it would increase taxes on cigarettes to $7.42 a pack. Cigarettes in New York City, which currently has the nation's highest state-local tax, have a tax of $7.61

Last week, the City Council's progressive caucus proposed finding new revenue streams so that the city could meet its pension obligation, but did not specify from where that money might come. The city has previously looked to the privatization of assets, hiked fees and increased property taxes to find new revenue.

The city could collect up to $10 million with the new tax, directing $8 million to plug budget holes and $2 million toward the CPS vision program, the Tribune reported. The mayor's office announced Sunday the vision program would benefit from an added $550,000 in the 2014 budget, to be unveiled this week.

In 2012, just 11 percent of CPS parents reported getting their children an eye exam, the mayor's office said.

The rising cost of smoking in Chicago may deter some from lighting up, but it's also caused an increase in illegal activity, like selling loose cigarettes, according to one West Side alderman. In March, after the county announced its tax hike, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said the high cost of cigarettes could create a black market equal to Chicago's drug trade. He called on officials to lower cigarette taxes.

Emanuel has also targeted menthol cigarettes, popular among young smokers, initiating a public-health campaign to heighten awareness of the dangers of smoking and working to reduce the use of the minty smokes.