Illinois smokers began paying a $1-per-pack increase on cigarette taxes Sunday, with many trying to stock up and others vowing to kick the habit. The tax on a pack of cigarettes jumped from 98 cents to $1.98, a move lawmakers and health advocates say will generate desperately needed revenue for the state while cutting smoking rates.
"Every research organization that's looked at this ... has concluded that raising price is one of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, especially among young people," said Danny McGoldrick, vice president of research for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, a nationwide anti-smoking organization.
The group estimates the increase will prevent 72,700 Illinois kids from becoming smokers and cause 53,400 adults to quit smoking while raising $350 million per year in new revenue.
Gov. Pat Quinn said the increase could help offset Medicaid cuts.
Lorraine Harvey, assistant manager at Discount Tobacco in Peoria, said she personally plans to try to quit smoking rather than pay more.
She and other retailers also hear customers talking about making a run for the border. The cigarette tax in neighboring Missouri is just 17 cents, the lowest in the nation.
"You're literally sending business away from Illinois," Mike Saurs, co-owner of the Cornerstore on Main, told the (Peoria) Journal Star.
Meanwhile, so many smokers have been stocking up that distributors are having trouble meeting demand. Harvey got only 127 cartons in a recent shipment that normally would have at least 200, so she limited her customers to two cartons apiece until the tax increase takes effect.
"It's going to be a zoo in here," Harvey said.
McGoldrick, the anti-smoking advocate, hopes low-tax states like Missouri will follow Illinois' example and raise taxes, too.
"That's the best solution for everybody," he said.