On Friday, the Cook County, Illinois, County Board gave its initial approval to at least one big tax hike included in the annual budget proposed by County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Last year, Preckwinkle pushed for tobacco tax increases in order to pay for county spending of $2.9 billion.
This year, she is back with a 2013 budget that proposes spending $3 billion—and increasing cigarette taxes by $1 a pack, along with taxing gun sales.
On Friday, the board's Finance Committee signed off on the tax increase. Because all 17 commissioners who serve on the full County Board also sit on the Finance Committee, the committee vote indicates that the tax increase is likely be put on the books in the near future, as part of Preckwinkle's overall budget.
Preckwinkle previously sought to institute a 5-cent bullet tax as well, but that was reportedly nixed in order to garner more votes for the overall plan.
The $1 a pack cigarette tax increase would bring the combined tax rate on a pack of smokes in the county into close range of the combined tax rate on a pack of cigarettes in Manhattan.
Manhattan is currently the most expensive locale in the country in which to buy fully-taxed, legal cigarettes. There, a pack of properly taxed cigarettes costs up to $13 per pack, with Chicago costs running in the same range.
A recent study showed that the high tax rate of cigarettes in New York means that poor smokers there spend about 25 percent of their household income on smoking.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently ruled out a city-wide cigarette tax increase in the aftermath of news of that study breaking.
Critics query whether the proposed Cook County cigarette tax increase can bring in anything close to the intended revenue, as Illinoisans are still getting to grips with a recent $1 per pack statewide tax increase, and due to the already high cost of smoking in Chicago.
Chicago already is known to have a major problem with smokers smoking cigarettes purchased from locales where the tax rate is far lower than in the Windy City.
According to a recent University of Illinois at Chicago study, 75 percent of discarded cigarette butts in Chicago were found to be missing tax stamps required for the legal sale of cigarettes in the city.
That indicated that as of the time of the study, Chicago smokers were already evading high taxes on smokes en masse by purchasing smokes not subject to taxes levied in the city. The study was conducted before the $1 per pack statewide increase was introduced and before the introduction of Preckwinkle’s latest budget.