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Cigarette tax hike may leave trail of smoke

Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

Smokers already have started the rush out of Cook County.
A county cigarette tax kicks in t oday, adding $1 to the price of a pack and $10 more on a carton of smokes, which is welcome news to retailers in neighboring counties.
"We already have new customers coming in," said John Bhatt, manager at Boulevard Discount in Whiting, Ind.
He's expecting more today.
Bhatt is selling a pack of Marlboros for $3.38, while the same 20 cigarettes will cost smokers $7.29 at Walgreens in the Loop today.
Even at a DuPage County White Hen, they're going for $4.45.
The Smoke Shop in Dyer, Ind., is selling GPC for $2.69 a pack, while they'll cost $6.29 in Cook County.
"When it was $4 more [a carton], we didn't see too much," Bhatt said. "But now it will be $10 more -- I mean, we're already $30 cheaper [a carton], now we'll be $40, so we'll see some movement."
County hoping for millions more
While there might be a rush to get cigarettes at half price or better, Cook County off icials still expect local smokers to pony up, no matter the cost -- bringing in millions.
County revenue director Barbara Bruno said cigarette taxes brought in about $157 million last year -- with the new tax expected to generate $70 million more.
A county task force, including sheriff's officers, will hit warehouses and other cigarette inventories, slapping each pack with an updated stamp and ordering owners to sign affidavits swearing to their entire stock.
But officials also acknowledge the rush expected for out-of-county cigarettes, as well as a group who will now quit, slightly driving down anticipated revenues.
An incentive to quit
Joel Africk, of the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago, said for every 10 percent increase in a pack of cigarettes, about 6 percent of young smokers quit along with 2 percent of adults.
He says quitting "is a tough road," but recomme nds smokers gradually stop to ensure success.
He pointed to resources such as the $12 million state-funded Illinois Tobacco Quit Line and other cessation programs for help.
"One of the best things to motivate people to quit is to increase the price," said Dr. Robin Mermelstein, deputy director of the Institute for Health Research at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
"Many times, smokers think about quitting, but an increased price is very concrete and hits them right away. It's often that one thing that pushes them to say it's time to be more serious about my efforts to quit."

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