State senate approves new tax on cigarettes

By Megan Graham

After the Illinois State Senate approved a $1 increase on cigarette packs Tuesday morning, smokers may be left wondering if the government is trying to stamp them out for good.

Senate Bill 44 is the second act approved in March by Illinois legislators regarding cigarette prices. It will increase the price of cigarettes by 50 cents in September and another 50 cents next year. A federal excise tax going into effect Wednesday will increase the tax on cigarettes from 39 cents to $1.01.

Kathy Drea, vice president of advocacy for the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest said Bill 44 will keep a projected 104,500 children from becoming addicted adult smokers. It will also cause a projected 51,900 current adult smokers in Illinois to quit smoking.

Mickey Moriarty, freshman in DGS, said he plans to continue smoking despite the taxes.

“The government treats us like we’re the cockroaches of society,” he said.

Drea said the American Lung Association hopes to see a decrease in cigarette usage with the passage of the bill.

“We look at any increase in the cost of cigarettes as a win-win situation because it’s the most effective way to prevent kids from starting to smoke and to get adults to quit smoking,” Drea said. “Also, the other win is it’s a very effective way for governments to bring in quite a lot of revenue. It’s particularly good if that revenue goes to treating sick smokers, because we all pay for that. It’s the only right thing to do.”

Drea added that Illinois health care costs directly caused by smoking were about $4 billion in past years.

“All of us pay for sick smokers,” she said. “For an average household, our state and federal tax burden is $670, no matter if they smoke or not.”

Michael La Due, Champaign City Council member from District 2, said he believes the government is trying to stop people from smoking, but doubts they will succeed.

“It won’t be (successful) because they haven’t spent a great deal of public money,” he said, referencing the lack of a formulated governmental campaign to outlaw smoking. “It’s counter-intuitive and counter-productive to use program funding on something you’re already spending public money to eradicate.”

Drea said she does not think the government wants to completely outlaw smoking.

“I think the government learned a good lesson during alcohol prohibition, that it didn’t work very well,” she said. “I think they’re going to go about it in a different way.”