Aldermen talk increased taxes on vape devices
by KEVIN GROSS
Some Northwest Side aldermen discussed why the cost of vaping has become more expensive in the city after the City Council approved an ordinance that nearly doubles the city’s tax for electronic cigarettes and liquid nicotine products and requires them to be kept behind the counter at most stores.
The tax on such products, commonly known as "vapes" or "e-cigs" increased from $0.80 to $1.50 per device, in addition to an increase from $0.55 to $1.20 per fluid milliliter of liquid nicotine used to fill e-cigarette devices. The city tax stacks on top of Cook County’s $0.20 tax per fluid milliliter of liquid nicotine, making the total liquid nicotine tax $1.40 per fluid milliliter.
The old tax that was approved in 2016 was already the largest per-unit vape tax in the nation, according to figures from the Tax Foundation. The City Council voted 44-2 to approve the new higher rates on Sept. 20, which took effect immediately.
The ordinance additionally banned the display of any such products except from behind a sales counter at most stores, including corner stores or convenience marts. The restriction does not apply to smoke shops.
"I am proud to stand with Chicagoans as we say no to Big Tobacco, no to deceitful marketing that hook our youth and no to jazzed-up versions of the same old nicotine products that harm us," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. "With these new measures, we will build on our historic lows in youth smoking and support the health of the next generation."
The ordinance is designed to reduce youth tobacco use and says that "more teens now use cigars and e-cigarettes than smoke cigarettes," noting that 6.6 percent of Chicago youth used e-cigarettes in 2017 and the national youth rate of e-cigarette use increased from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 11.7 percent in 2017.
"I support it (the ordinance) 100 percent. We should deter young people from getting addicted and make it tougher for those already using nicotine," Alderman Margaret Laurino (39th) said in a statement. "We should do whatever it takes to keep young people from being addicted to nicotine."
Concerns over youth nicotine use have also surrounded a pending city ordinance introduced in June by Alderman Ed Burke (14th) that would ban flavored e-cigarettes, as well as similar pending legislation sponsored by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) that would ban flavored products nationwide.
By contrast, some have also advocated for e-cigarettes as a "healthier alternative" to traditional cigarette use among longtime adult smokers. Regarding the belief that heavily taxing vapes could draw away from their role as a smoking alternative, Alderman Ariel Reboyras (30th) said, "It might not impact smokers’ decision making much, as regular cigs are already pricey in Chicago and not comparably cheaper. I haven’t heard any complaints in my ward about the increased prices."
Emanuel and public health commissioner Dr. Julie Morita introduced the ordinance to the city Finance Committee, which approved it. The ordinance was quickly moved to the City Council for a full vote, according to Laurino’s spokesman Manuel Galvan. Aldermen George Cardenas (12th), Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th), Anthony Napolitano (41st) and Debra Silverstein (50th) were either not in attendance or abstained from the vote.
Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) and Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd) voted against the ordinance. Sposato said he did so largely because of poor advance notice of the vote.
"We had less than 24 hours notice and got a notification e-mail at 1:30 before the vote," Sposato said. "I’m big about the process – researching the issue and hearing from people on all sides – but we didn’t get time before the vote, so I made it clear that this process was embarrassing. If we had good discussion and waited to vote in October, and still voted yes, I’d have little problem."
Reboyras said he understood the procedural concerns and didn’t know why the vote was held on short notice, but he voted for the ordinance.
"While I do think this should’ve been discussed further, we still voted for it, because it’s the right thing to do," he said.
Sposato said that he is concerned about the possibility of creating a black market for liquid nicotine products, or that a product-specific tax increase could "send people in droves to Harwood Heights, Elmwood Park, Norridge or over to DuPage County to buy their vapes."
Reboyras said that such concerns "probably affect more of the wards in north and south, along the border of the city and the suburbs."
"Could the tax increase create more of a black market? Maybe," he said. "But we’re weighing that against children’s health."