Illinois Health Groups Push for Cigarette Tax Hike

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Illinois Health Groups Push for Cigarette Tax Hike

CHICAGO -- Anti-smoking advocates, including the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association, are in talks with state lawmakers to sponsor a bill that would raise the state excise tax on cigarettes by $1 per pack, nearly doubling the tax, the Chicago Tribune reported.

A similar proposal passed the Senate in 2007, but failed in the House following strong opposition from retailers including convenience store operators and gas station owners, the report stated.

Proponents told the paper the current economic crisis could give a tax increase more appeal, and estimate that by passing the tax increase -- to bring the state’s per-pack tax to $1.98 -- it would bring in an extra $320 million a year, according to the Tribune.

"The state is looking for new revenue and this is a smart way to find it," Harold Wimmer, president of the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest, told the paper, adding the state would also save money on health care expenses, as higher cigarette prices could motivate more people to quit smoking.

But merchants told the newspaper the impact of the proposed tax would be devastating, especially in the current recession.

"We’d see 25 to 30 percent reductions in our sales," said Bill Fleischli, executive vice president of the Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association and the Illinois Association of Convenience Stores. "Small businesses are in the midst of a horrible recession and this will put many out of business." He continued: "When you’re trying to create jobs and expand economic growth, it’s not the right thing to do."