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County tax on loose tobacco questioned

Sunday, January 08, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

Cook County commissioners are being asked to reconsider a plan to tax pipe tobacco, cigars and chewing tobacco to help balance the county's 2006 budget.

Commissioners seem prepared to add $1 to the county's share of cigarette taxes, which would bring in an extra $72 million a year.

But a new tax on "other tobacco products" wouldn't be profitable and would be tough to collect, industry officials told the County Board on Friday.

It would "cost almost as much to administer this tax" as what the county would collect, said Mike Gold, head of Northbrook-based Arrango Cigar Co.

The loose tobacco products would be taxed on a sliding scale, based on the weight of the tobacco, meaning distributors would have to begin separating and weighing individual tobacco products.

Health groups favor tax

He said he expects many cigar smokers to simply avoid the tax by mail-ordering their supplies.

County revenue director Barbara Bruno acknowledged the tougher effort involved in collecting taxes on other tobacco products, but County Board President John Stroger said he remains supportive of taxing all tobacco products to balance his $3 billion budget.

The plan has the support of several health groups, who spoke in favor of it Friday.

Commissioners didn't express opinions but did ask questions about the benefits of the tax and how other agencies collect it. Budget hearings will continue through next month.

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