Chicago City Council passes e-cigarette tax hike

Chicago City Council passes e-cigarette tax hike

Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed an e-cigarette tax hike through City Council within a matter of hours.

Users of e-cigarettes are now paying more at Chicago counters.

On Sept. 20, Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced an ordinance raising taxes on e-cigarettes and requiring all retail stores to keep vaping products below the counter, effective immediately. Chicago City Council approved the mayor’s ordinance “within hours,” according to the Civic Federation.

The ordinance hiked the city’s e-cigarette tax to $1.50 from 80 cents per container, and to $1.20 from 55 cents per milliliter of liquid nicotine. Including Cook County’s liquid nicotine tax of 20 cents per milliliter, Chicagoans now pay a combined tax of $1.40 for every milliliter of liquid nicotine.

But even before the Sept. 20 tax hike, Chicagoans already paid the highest per-unit e-cigarette tax in the nation, according to a report by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.

Emanuel said the ordinance is aimed at “supporting youth to make healthy choices — and protecting residents from tobacco,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

This echoes statements made by Cook County officials in 2017, who cited public health concerns when pushing the county’s notorious “soda tax,” which has since been repealed. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle admitted later that the tax had been primarily about revenue.

If improving public health is the goal of Emanuel’s tax hike, the results might be disappointing. For example, the Tax Foundation found in a 2016 report that imposing high taxes on e-cigarettes increases barriers to less harmful alternatives for cigarette users looking to quit.

Illinois’ 2012 cigarette tax hike can serve as an example of the limited impact “sin taxes” have on public health outcomes. According to the most recent data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, the percentage of Illinois smokers dropped to 15.1 percent from 18.6 percent in the four years following the tax hike – only half a percentage point higher than the nationwide trend. What’s more, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show cigarette use in Illinois and the nation has declined steadily since at least 1990 – long before the state’s 2012 cigarette tax hike.

The limited reach of the vaping ordinance will also hinder its effectiveness: E-cigarette users in the Windy City only need to take a quick trip across city lines to find cheaper vape products.

Illinois’ dependence on sin taxes is unlikely to snuff out vaping in Chicago. But Emanuel’s e-cigarette ordinance will add to Chicagoans’ suffocating tax burden.

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