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The other side of the cigarette tax hike coin

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

* I quit smoking cigarettes years ago because my doctors told me cigarettes almost killed me. Not a fan. But Zorn makes a good point here about Senate President John Cullerton’s proposal to raise cigarette taxes by a dollar a pack, a plan also now supported by Gov. Pritzker

According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those with annual household income less than $35,000 are nearly three times more likely to smoke than those in households that earn more than $100,000.

Overall, 14 percent of adults smoke. But only about 7 percent of those with a college degree light up regularly, compared to 23 percent of those without a high school diploma.

Among those with private insurance, 10.5 percent smoke, compared to 24.7 percent of the uninsured. And 35.2 percent of those suffering from “serious psychological distress” are smokers, according to the CDC. […]

Piling on them is a particularly regressive way to fund state government.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Teacher - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:04 am:

    Agreed. I think the same could be said about the slot machines. I don’t think I would see Pritzker sitting hours at a machine on Friday night wasting his paycheck.

  2. - A State Employee Guy - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:04 am:

    Don’t think I agree with characterizing a plan to give smokers an incentive to quit as “piling on.”

  3. - Perrid - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:04 am:

    I don’t really care if sin taxes are regressive. Everyone needs to buy groceries, everyone (especially people without mass transit) needs to buy gas, so those are regressive taxes I care about. Taxing people who are killing themselves and others slowly in an effort to make them STOP killing themselves and others does not bother me a bit.

  4. - Matt - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:07 am:

    This is Big Tobacco’s new lobbying message.

    We’re not taxing vegetables or milk. This is the deadliest product that kills millions of people every year.

    We should tax it so much it’s out of reach out every socioeconomic group.

  5. - anon - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:07 am:

    Im a pretty liberal guy, but I’m fine with this. If smoking becomes cost prohibitive, and causes a low income smoker to quit, its possible that person’s healthcare needs could diminish, thus costing taxpayers less to provide for them. Nobody should be smoking, especially those who cannot to pay for their own health insurance.

  6. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:09 am:

    Economists recommend taxing things society wants to reduce, like smoking to avoid the expensive health outcomes. It’s also why a carbon tax makes sense, but I digress.

    I don’t think it’s piling on, it is intentionally regressive. It is a state attempt to change behavior (aka nanny-state). When facts, reason and common sense can’t break the hold of nicotine, why not use regressive taxation to get people to quit.

    This isn’t about raising more revenue, we’ve long since passed the point of maximizing tax revenue. I think the amount of revenue collected has gone down over the years as the taxes have increased, but I don’t have time to research it at the moment.

    I’m also a former smoker. I remember the outrage when cigarettes went from 95 cents per pack to $1. We’ve come a long way, baby.

  7. - Honeybear - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:09 am:

    It is complex. No simple answers
    for the poor, money is obviously
    a scarce resource.
    Making cigarettes more expensive
    is necessarily
    a limiting factor in how many packs
    a poor person can afford.
    I am sympathetic/empathetic, compassionate
    towards those of need.
    Yet I can think of many things
    that are free
    healthy ways of coping
    that don’t kill you.

    I also think that what is regressive
    is our current flat income tax.

    More income in their pockets
    hopefully to be spent on
    something that won’t kill them.
    And rob their loved ones
    of their presence.

  8. - wordslinger - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:12 am:

    –Piling on them is a particularly regressive way to fund state government.–

    I think Cullerton has been quite open that his motivation is to reduce smoking through taxation, not fund state government.

  9. - A guy - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:12 am:

    Such a diminishing return, and not monumental to get around by purchasing from an out of state source. It’s their base they’re pounding on. These things don’t stop at just cigarettes. They move on to twinkies and potato chips.
    I’ve never been a cigarette smoker. I don’t know how they put up with the cost and inconvenience to continue doing so. That said, they’re not lepers.

  10. - Bourbon Street - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:22 am:

    Mixed feelings here. If raising the price on cigarettes was a way to get people to quit, I’d be all for this bill. Sadly, cigarettes are a powerful addiction so the reality probably is that smokers will continue to smoke no matter what the price is and this proposed tax will hurt those least able to afford the new taxes. However, I’d be interested if there are any statistics about whether tax or other price increases have an effect on either the rate of people quitting or lowering the rate of people starting smoking.

  11. - Lucky Pierre - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:22 am:

    Illinois only trailing New York at $1.50 cheaper than their $12.85

    Only 13 states higher than $8 currently

    No surprise there is a huge black market for cigarettes

    Won’t be long until we are worst state in the union to own property and smoke.

  12. - Levivotedfor Judy - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:30 am:

    I hope this does not come off as snarky, but I remember Chicago Alderman Carrie Austin during a debate referencing how the increased taxes on cigarettes pretty much created and fueled the “loose square” industry in Chicago. She pointed out the irony in how some people were getting arrested for selling single cigarettes. The increase will only make that market more profitable.

  13. - efudd - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:31 am:

    Sorry, Rich. As a long time smoker who finally quit for good years ago, you cannot tax them enough. The tobacco industry targets the poorest for a reason. Funny thing, there’s no such thing as a “cheap” cigarette anymore.
    For the usual commenters bemoaning a tax increase: who pays for those uninsured smokers when they eventually have to be treated for tobacco-related illnesses?

  14. - Gooner - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:31 am:

    They also cost taxpayers a lot when it comes to increased health care costs.

    It is like taxing trucks more than cars. Trucks do more damage.

    Does it impact low income people more? Maybe, but it is a relatively easy problem to solve. Don’t smoke.

  15. - Collinsville Kevin - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:32 am:

    Typical nanny-state stuff from Cullerton. Making the poor addicted smokers pay more is not a responsible way to pay for state government.

  16. - efudd - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:34 am:

    By the by, I don’t know about Iowa or Indiana.
    If you think going to Cape Girardeau or Paducah is going to save you big money on your smokes, you haven’t bought them there in a while.

  17. - PJ - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:36 am:

    Depends on the motivation of the tax. If you’re trying to fund the government, it’s regressive. If you’re trying to change behaviors by pricing people out of literal poison, it’s good public policy.

  18. - Norseman - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:36 am:

    I asked a Chicago rep. about his/her (I won’t mention details because the legislator is still around) opposition to a no-smoking program targeted to inner city folks. Smoking was one of the few pleasures the legislator’s poor constituents have. That certainly gave me a different perspective.

  19. - anon2 - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:37 am:

    Several commenters favor taxes to make cigarettes cost prohibitive, at least for lower income smokers who constitute the majority of those addicted. While sin taxes have a role to play in curbing use, jacking them up so high that smokers can’t afford them will surely be a boost for the black market.

    It’s instructive to see how people rationalize highly regressive taxes, in a state that already has one of the most regressive state and local tax systems in the nation.

  20. - Elliott Ness - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:41 am:

    Double it, triple it…they need to quit for their health’s sake…i would argue they cant afford it now, quit and make money. This is an attempt to get folks to quit not really “fund” state government and it has worked for some in the past. Hoping it works on many more this time around.

  21. - lake county democrat - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:41 am:

    What’s wrong with the principle that “sin taxes” should be at a level to compensate the public for loss (e.g., increased medical care) and not to fund government beyond that?

  22. - My New Handle - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:42 am:

    So the poor smoke more than non-poor and the taxes affect the poor more negatively yhan higher income smokers. The poor also use public health funding like Medicaid, so that all taxpayers are funding treatment of their smoking-related illnesses. Make tobacco cheaper to buy and we can make up the difference in medical expenses.
    I agree with other commenters that this is not a state funding mechanism, but a proposed added deterent to using tobacco in the first place.

  23. - Al - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:42 am:

    I doubt we have enough resources committed to collecting taxes owed. Maybe put more dollars in bootlegged cigarette enforcement.

  24. - PJ - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:42 am:

    –It’s instructive to see how people rationalize highly regressive taxes–

    Every tax targeted towards changing behavior is going to be regressive. The point is that people don’t have to (and really shouldn’t) pay it. Health problems only exacerbate the many problems of being poor, and smoking is an almost literal guarantee of long-term health issues.

  25. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:42 am:

    ===What’s wrong with the principle that “sin taxes” should be at a level to compensate the public for loss===

    Has that ever really been a thing? Should we lower taxes on casinos now?

  26. - anon2 - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:43 am:

    It’s also instructive to compare the opposition to progressive and regressive taxation. We can count on the GOP to fight to the death to prevent progressive taxation. Opposition is much more muted to making our already regressive system even more so.

  27. - efudd - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:44 am:

    Once again, with feeling-
    Who pays for those uninsured smokers when they eventually have to be treated for tobacco-related illnesses?
    As far as this black market argument goes-speaking for southern Illinois, a trafficker would have to travel quite a distance to purchase enough cigarettes at a low enough cost in order to sell them at enough profit to make it worth their effort.

  28. - thoughts matter - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:49 am:

    Saying that these taxes are an incentive to quit may be true. But I think there’s a more selfish reason why we tax ‘sins’. It’s so the rest of us think we got by with something because WE don’t hear up pay those taxes. We should stop taxing people for anything except two reasons: the state needs income and we should get it from those with the current ability to pay.
    If we want to change behavior- then allow insurance companies, hotels, landlords, cleaners, etc to charge more to smokers because of the extra work or costs involved due to cigarette smoke. Allow landlords and hotels to refuse to allow smoking in their buildings. Make up rules and regulations, etc.
    make it less enjoyable to partake in the activity.

    But don’t tax people because they partake of a substance or enjoy an activity you don’t. That’s none of the governments’ business any more than our bedrooms and doctors offices are.

  29. - Skokie Man - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:51 am:

    Raising cigarette taxes reduces smoking, especially among kids. There are countless studies and statements by the tobacco companies themselves that confirm this. Here’s just a small sample…

  30. - Techie - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:52 am:

    I’m rather surprised by the comments here. People are generally saying, “well yeah, the whole point is to make smoking so expensive that people will quit!”

    This completely ignores why people are smoking and what would make them stop. You could probably charge $25 per pack and smoking rates wouldn’t change much. Many people want to quit, and have tried many times - they don’t need additional incentives to quit, they need HELP in quitting. I once heard a former smoker say that he had an easier time quitting cocaine than cigarettes. There’s just something about them that are incredibly addictive.

    More to my point, this is a health issue. Addiction is a health issue, not just a matter of rational choice affected by price. So yes, this is a bad move which disproportionately hurts the poor.

  31. - efudd - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:55 am:

    thoughts matter-
    Uh, insurance companies, hotel, etc. have already raised costs due to smoking.
    They didn’t need anyone’s approval.
    Especially the insurance industry.
    Hotels already are mostly non-smoking, again, didn’t ask.
    What the heck are you talking about?

  32. - wordslinger - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:59 am:

    –These things don’t stop at just cigarettes. They move on to twinkies and potato chips.–

    Since when? What’s the tax on potato chips and Twinkies?

  33. - My thoughts - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 11:59 am:

    Well guess it’s a good thing the minimum wage is being increased to pay for the extra taxes.

  34. - A guy - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 12:04 pm:

    ==Since when? What’s the tax on potato chips and Twinkies?==

    Are you more comfortable with fast food and soda pop?

  35. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 12:10 pm:

    == You could probably charge $25 per pack and smoking rates wouldn’t change much.==

    Not so. When it comes to cigarettes, the research is pretty clear. Higher cost leads to reduced use, especially among kids. And, if a person doesn’t start smoking when they are young, they are much less likely to smoke ever.

  36. - d. p. gumby - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 12:17 pm:

    The purpose of “sin taxes” is part revenue and part social behavior change. Pot calling Kettle is correct. Same should be done statewide w/ the ill-fated sugary beverage tax…

  37. - wordslinger - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 12:19 pm:

    –Are you more comfortable with fast food and soda pop?–

    I don’t know from “soda pop.”

    You pay the same tax at McDonald’s as you do at a Live Forever Vegan restaurant. Same rate for food for immediate consumption bought at stores, be it a candy bar or a prepared salad to go.

    Cigarettes have their very own separate taxes. Hence the point of the post.

  38. - Cheryl44 - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 12:23 pm:

    Another former smoker. They finally got too expensive for me to be able to justify the cost in my head. And I make a comfortable living.

  39. - Thoughts matter - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 12:27 pm:

    Efudd - do I used examples of policies already in place. So what - you know what my point was. Put the financial consequences for the smoker on things they pay that relate to their own use of cigarettes. Charge different rates. Put those who admit to smoking ( or who reek of smoke) in separate areas of a restaurant, etc. no, don’t go back to allowing smoking in public places. Require them to use a separate elevator. Allow them to deal with the fact that we don’t need to smell the used smoke in their clothes at the table next to us. Fees or things that affect them in their daily lives, rather than taxes. As another commenter said, give them more access to smoking cessation programs.

  40. - Generic Drone - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 12:32 pm:

    Tax the daylights out of cigarettes. Reducing smoking is a good thing. I wonder how much productivity would be increased.

  41. - Urbanaman - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 12:32 pm:

    There is nearly $2 billion annually in smoking costs to Medicaid. This tax prevents smoking and promotes quitting.

    Makes sense

  42. - jake - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 12:54 pm:

    The real bad actor is not the cost of cigarettes but the cost and availability of health care. Washington just passed and Governor Inslee just signed a bill establishing a public option for health care, which will put Washington on a path to become the first state in which all residents will have health insurance. We could, and should, do that in Illinois.

  43. - Al - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 1:01 pm:

    We need to hit the retailers by raising the Tobacco licensing fee.

  44. - goose/gander - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 1:07 pm:

    so if raise to 3 bucks the IL taxes on top of $5.50 pack of ciggies; then there should also be at least a 50% tax rate on each sale of lump cannabis

  45. - Techie - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 1:22 pm:

    Weird, I posted this earlier but it didn’t show up.

    After reading the link referenced by Skokie Man, it looks like I was wrong and that sales do drop in response to price increases. That said, some of the tax revenue should be used to help people quit who are still addicted.

  46. - A guy - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 2:05 pm:

    == Live Forever Vegan restaurant==

    In my sweet dreams and my nightmares, this is where I imagine you eating.

  47. - A State Employee Guy - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 2:06 pm:

    Word, you know plenty well that Chicago implemented a soda tax. C’mon now.

  48. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 2:07 pm:

    ===you know plenty well that Chicago implemented a soda tax===


    It was Cook County.

  49. - A State Employee Guy - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 2:12 pm:

    Got me there. Not sure how that changes the point I’m making though.

  50. - anon2 - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 2:12 pm:

    ===What’s wrong with the principle that “sin taxes” should be at a level to compensate the public for loss===

    If that principle were applied across the board, then there would be a stiff tax on handguns and soda, and higher taxes on alcohol. How about riding a motorcycle without a helmet? The public gets the bill for brain injuries. My guess is that “compensating the public for loss” wouldn’t be so popular when applied to other products that entail significant public costs.

  51. - Mama - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 2:33 pm:

    I don’t smoke, but I would rather see them tax Soda Pop, Candy, Potato- Chips and all other junk- foods than add another dollar tax to each pack of cigarettes. Sugary drinks, candy and junk food kill people too.

  52. - Healthish - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 3:16 pm:

    This also means the health benefits would accrue largely to this population as well.

  53. - wordslinger - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 3:23 pm:

    –Word, you know plenty well that Chicago implemented a soda tax.–

    How much is that? How much is it generating?

  54. - A State Employee Guy - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 3:39 pm:

    Yeah, that’s not the point, but of course you know that. The point that OP was making was “if they tax our cigarettes, what’s next, soda?” The fact that the County enacted a measure to do just that, short-lived as it was, is the point being made here.

  55. - wordslinger - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 5:01 pm:

    –The point that OP was making was “if they tax our cigarettes, what’s next, soda?”

    There’s been a tobacco tax in the United States since 1791.

    Awfully slow developing, that slippery slope.

  56. - efudd - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 5:22 pm:

    Thoughts matter-and how are these “fees” other than taxes going to be collected?
    No, I don’t know what you mean, you’re rambling.

  57. - Odysseus - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 7:20 pm:

    “I quit smoking cigarettes years ago because my doctors told me cigarettes almost killed me.”

    I drove my father to the hospital when he suffered a pulmonary thrombosis in both lungs. He quit smoking the hard way, spending the next few weeks in an oxygen tent and on blood thinners.

    Spent the rest of his life attached to a portable oxygen tank.

    Tobacco taxes are not nearly high enough.

  58. - Sidepocket - Tuesday, May 14, 19 @ 8:24 pm:

    When will there be a tax on carbohydrates? Will legalized pot be taxed at a flat sin-tax rate, the same as liquor, carbs, tobacco and gambling? Be consistent or just keep picking the sin that special interests can lobby to tax the most.

  59. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, May 15, 19 @ 7:00 am:

    ===When will there be a tax on carbohydrates?===

    I believe that’s known as diabetes, and I hear it’s very taxing.

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