CITY HALL — An alderman is proposing a new tax on e-cigarettes and says the mayor is on board, and views it as a way to raise revenue and help balance the city budget.
Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) held a news conference Thursday to propose a $1.25 tax on each container of fluid for e-cigarettes, which he said would raise $1 million a year.
"I can say confidently the mayor's behind this," Moreno said. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has sought ideas to help balance the budget ahead of submitting his 2016 budget recommendation later this month.
"The mayor continues to listen to ideas from residents, as well as aldermen, when it comes to addressing both the remaining structural budget deficit and our pension obligations, and his focus remains on seeking savings and efficiencies before turning to revenue," said mayoral spokeswoman Kelley Quinn. "In our efforts to promote public health, with teen smoking at an all-time low in Chicago, he is open to opportunities that can build on the progress we have made to dissuade our youth from picking up dangerous and addictive habits like smoking and vaping."
Moreno too emphasized the tax's impact on youth smoking.
"Vaping is way up, way up with youth," he said, citing statistics that the practice had tripled among youth in a single year from 2013 to 2014.
Carol Southard, a tobacco treatment specialist at Northwestern Integrative Medicine, dismissed claims that e-cigarettes help with smoking-cessation programs, and instead said they act as a "gateway drug" for new smokers.
Southard said she supports the tax because "youth are the most susceptible to pricing."
"Clearly, these products should be taxed out of our children's reach," added Dr. Adrienne Fregia, president-elect of the Chicago Medical Society.
She said the use of e-cigarettes by high-school students had risen from 660,000 to 2 million nationwide just in the year from 2013 to 2014.
E-fluids to be smoked with e-cigarettes come in various flavors ranging from chocolate and berry to bourbon and pina colada, and sell in the $15 range for a 30ml container.
Yet the American Vaping Association has attacked the proposed tax, saying it is "prioritizing tax dollars ahead of public health."
"Mayor Emanuel's message to smokers is clear — please don't quit. The government desperately needs your money," said Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association. He called the proposed tax "a shameless tax grab" that would threaten to put vaping stores out of business.
Conley cited a recent British study suggesting "e-cigarettes are likely to be around 95 percent less hazardous than smoking," and insisted they had contributed to recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control findings that smoking was at an all-time low at 15.2 percent of the public, down from 16.8 percent last year.
The mayor has mentioned taxes on e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco as a way to minimize an expected $500 million hike in property taxes to cover required police and firefighter pension payments that had wreaked havoc with the city budget.
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