Since the increase of the Illinois cigarette tax took effect June 24, many students, residents and tobacco retail stores are finding ways to accommodate the change.
Several students have switched brands, roll their own, cut back, turn to the electronic cigarette or even cross state lines to Missouri and Kentucky to buy cigarettes.
Jessi Miller, a graduate student in sociology from Centralia, said the tax has encouraged her to cut back on smoking and be resourceful until she gets a paying job in the fall.
Miller said it also means she will travel home more often where cigarettes are cheaper even though it can be inconvenient for a busy student.
“It’s sad because smoking is my only stress relief and it’s a habit I actually enjoy,” Miller said. “Just adding $1 to cigarettes is a punishment for people who have a vice rather than a fix for a problem that needs a legitimate solution.”
The bill was passed May 29 with the state’s Medicaid system in mind.
By raising the tax from 98 cents to $1.98, the bill is expected to generate about $350 million a year, which will be matched by federal funds and allow Illinois to put about $700 million toward Medicaid.
However, for many tobacco retail stores in southern Illinois, which are located close to the Missouri and Kentucky borders, a loss in revenue will likely occur.
Both Missouri, at 17 cents a pack, and Kentucky, at 60 cents a pack, have lower cigarette taxes than the national average of $1.46, according to information from the USDA Economic Research Service.
But the Illinois tax hike now puts the state above two neighbors that previously had higher cigarette taxes: Iowa, at $1.36 a pack; and Indiana, at 99 cents.
Smoke House Discount Tobacco in Carbondale will continue to see a decline in cigarette volume, manager Colby Thompson said, despite steps the business has taken to accommodate the higher prices.
“We’re so close to the borders that smokers in the area can go about 50 miles either way,” Thompson said. “People are willing to spend the gas money because they end up saving money by doing so.”
Thompson said Smoke House markets “roll your own” tobacco products because they are cheaper even though the bill also raised the taxes on them.
Alex Ryterski, a senior from Pickneyille studying cinema and photography, said cutting back is something he wanted to do and the price increase is a reason to follow through.
“It makes more sense to cut back as opposed to traveling with gas prices the way they are,” Ryterski said. “It sounds ridiculous, but unless you carpool it wouldn’t be that cost effective.”
Nicole Wikoff, a senior from Carbondale studying health care management, said even though she doesn’t smoke, she could see the tax increase wrecking many students’ budgets.
She said if she was in that position it would be encouragement to just quit and it’s a good thing that the tax is in place.
In a statement on the General Assembly passage of the tax May 29, Gov. Pat Quinn said the tax hike will cut Medicaid costs to the state by reducing smoking and smoking-related ailments that end up in the Medicaid system.
“This legislation will help 60,000 people quit smoking, prevent 60,000 deaths from smoking-related conditions and keep 80,000 kids from taking up smoking in the first place,” Quinn said in the statement.
Miller said the government may use healthcare as an excuse and the tax won’t fix the problems they’re trying to solve.
The new tax is similar to the control tactics implemented in places such as New York where they’re banning the sale of large 16-ounce sodas, she said.
“I have my habits and they’re mine,” Miller said. “It’s not right for the government to dictate what I can and cannot do.”
Thompson said some people will always just pay the price for convenience, but others will find ways to be resourceful.
“People like to smoke and they don’t want to give that up,” he said.