Print version: Supporters still short on cigarette tax increase

John Guidroz

The votes are still short in the Illinois House for a $1-a-pack increase in the cigarette tax. But tying it to the budget at the fast-approaching end of session could be key to a breakthrough.

Senate Bill 44, which would raise the taxes from 98 cents per pack to $1.98 per pack, is about "a handful of votes short" of approval, according to House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago.

The Senate approved the bill last April with a 30-26 vote.

Currie joined anti-tobacco advocates at a Statehouse news conference Tuesday to encourage women to stop smoking in celebration of the upcoming Mother's Day holiday.

If approved, she said, the tax would help lawmakers "do an adequate job of funding the budget." The tax increase would raise nearly $300 million annually, which Currie said would help pay for Medicaid programs.

Despite the support, lawmakers along state border areas remain against the tax, even as the legislative session winds down.

Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Rock Island, said he would not support the higher tax - to a point. One possibility is to lump the cigarette tax increase in with other ideas to let lawmakers pass a budget and go home at the end of the week.

"If they throw a bunch of things together in a budget bill, then I might have to vote for it," he said.

Verschoore said Currie has not spoken with him about supporting the tobacco tax. He said he does not know if the tax would be included in a budget bill.

Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Crete, said he would oppose any cigarette tax increase even if it went into a budget proposal.

"There's actually smoke shops opening up across the border ... in Indiana," he said. "I'm trying to protect businesses in my district."

Kathy Drea, public policy director of the American Lung Association of Illinois, said higher cigarette taxes help curb smoking among young people and help smokers quit.

Illinois has the 32nd highest cigarette tax rate in the nation.

An Illinois tax of $1.98 per pack would put the state above Iowa ($1.36), Missouri (17 cents) and Kentucky (60 cents).

Drea said more than 873,000 Illinois residents are smokers, and more than 6,500 women die each year statewide from smoking-related illnesses.

She said a higher tobacco tax would prevent 110,000 children from becoming regular smokers.

John Guidroz can be reached at 217-782-6882 or John.guidroz@sj-r.com.