Smokers stock up before cigarette tax takes effect

June 12, 2012 (CHICAGO)

"It's another dollar that should be going into my gas tank," said George Dimitriou, smoker.

Some convenience store managers and groups claim the state's $1-a-pack tax increase is behind the jump in cigarette sales.

"People who would normally buy one pack or one carton of cigarettes a week are trying to buy two or three cartons. They're trying to get ahead of it," William Fleischili, Illinois Association of Convenience Stores.

The Illinois Association of Convenience Stores says there are cigarette shortages in some places because in anticipation of the tax hike the Department of Revenue cut down on the number of the old tax stamps sold to distributors.

"They're interfering with trade, with commerce," said Fleischili. "They're not allowing a person to buy what they want to buy."

A spokesperson for the Department of Revenue rejects that claim, telling ABC7, "We have sent people out to check and not found any local stores running low on cigarettes. However, in an effort to make sure there isn't a shortage we're selling to distributors the equivalent of last June's entire allocation of stamps. That's essentially a 25% increase."

This is the latest hurdle for smokers.

If you want to light up, the street is just about the only place to do so. And in order to buy a pack of cigarettes, the average smoker in Chicago has to spend over $10.

When the new state tax goes into effect at the end of the month the city's combined tax rate per pack will go up to $4.66, second only to New York City.

Retailers fear the increase will only drive consumers across state lines. Some have already made the switch.

"I don't shop for cigarettes in Chicago," said Michael Wilkerson, smoker. "I shop in Indiana. It's quite a haul. I live on the North Side of Chicago. So I do it once a week."

It's estimated that the new cigarette tax will raise about $350 million. Gov. Pat Quinn says the increase was necessary. He says money raised from it will go to fund the state's Medicaid system.

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