CITY HALL — A City Council committee approved a new set of tobacco taxes and raising the legal smoking age Wednesday, but a final vote on the proposals by the full council was postponed for a month.
The Finance Committee approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel's new tobacco tax package by a 22-9 vote, two days after his plan met considerable resistance from aldermen complaining about its effect on small stores, especially those on the city's borders, and about the sale of single, unpackaged cigarettes called "loosies" on the street.
Yet three opponents — Aldermen Leslie Hairston (5th), Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) and Nicholas Sposato (38th) — postponed a final vote on the plan for at least a month during Wednesday's City Council meeting. All three have complained it would hurt small businesses.
Emanuel — who called the fight against tobacco "something very important to me, and I've worked on it my whole life" — said he would make sure the package is adopted at the next council meeting.
"You can delay what we're gonna do, but you can't defeat it, because the votes are there," he said.
In a news conference after the council meeting, Emanuel repeatedly emphasized how it was a personal issue for him, saying, "I saw my mother personally struggle" with tobacco addiction.
"I know where I stand. And I've seen it with my mother," he said of Marsha Emanuel.
The amended ordinance delivered to the council Wednesday would raise fines for selling loosies from a maximum of $2,500 on first offense to $5,000, and from $5,000 to $10,000 on subsequent offenses. The fines on illegal sales apply to businesses as well, and they can lose their licenses if two violations are registered within four years.
Emanuel also said that some of the estimated $6 million raised by the new taxes would go to smoking-cessation programs, as well as high school orientation.
Yet there were no new provisions to protect businesses, resulting in the parliamentary maneuver to delay passage. It could be reintroduced and passed at next month's council meeting.
Otherwise, the ordinance taxes smokeless tobacco and packages of small cigars, while raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 21.
Emanuel cited data showing that just 10.7 percent of Chicago high-school students are smokers, below the national average of 15.7 percent, and called it an "attainable goal ... to have a tobacco-free generation."
Most aldermen who were initially opposed seemed placated by the changes Wednesday, but Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) raised concerns over a provision that would allow the health commissioner and the city comptroller to set "floor prices," or minimum costs, for cigarettes and other tobacco products if the tax is found to be illegal.
"That's a real cause for concern as policy," Reilly said, complaining about the "precedent" it would set in the city setting prices.
Emanuel, however, said he was not to be denied on any count, adding, "The City Council will pass this ordinance because it's right to help kids quit smoking and never start."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: