Emanuel touts results of illegal tobacco sales crackdown

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel / Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried Friday to show how tough he’s getting on illegal tobacco sales in an apparent attempt to convince aldermen to approve his stalled plan to raise Chicago’s smoking age to 21, slap a $6 million tax on cigars, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco and ban coupons and discounts.

Since Feb. 10, the city’s newly-expanded tobacco enforcement unit has conducted 136 investigations into illegal tobacco sales, 192 tobacco tickets, seized 797 packs of unstamped cigarettes and found 51 businesses in violation.

Violations range from selling loose or unstamped cigarettes to assorted other tobacco-related violations.

“Enforcement of legal tobacco sales in our city will not only help keep our neighborhoods safer, but will prevent unlawful and harmful tobacco products from falling into the hands of our children,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in a press release.

“By cracking down on businesses for illegally selling products, our goal is to avoid black market activity that is plaguing some of our neighborhoods, and to help our youth develop healthy lifestyles.”

For five years, Emanuel has pursued a sweeping anti-smoking agenda that has driven Chicago’s teen smoking rate down to 10.7 percent.

It includes imposing the nation’s highest cigarette tax, banning e-cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited, moving them behind the counter of retail stores, snuffing out sales to minors, banning the sale of flavored tobacco products within 500 feet of schools and taxing e-cigarettes.

At next week’s City Council meeting, aldermen are expected to vote on the mayor’s stalled plan to raise Chicago’s smoking age to 21, slap a $6 million tax on cigars, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco, and ban coupons and discounts that Big Tobacco uses to drive down the price of a pack of cigarettes to lure teens to take up the habit.

Last month, a handful of aldermen used a parliamentary maneuver to delay an ordinance that the mayor had amended to appease aldermen concerned about the black-market sale of loose cigarettes and the crime that comes with it.

They argued that taxing tobacco products yet again would drive up the black-market sale of loose cigarettes that tend to breed “gun violence” and drive small retailers out of business, particularly those located near the city limits.

They further claimed that the mayor’s ordinance would “devastate communities of color” by leaving them with even more vacant storefronts and more black-market sales.

Emanuel obviously hopes to salvage the ordinance by showing how tough he’s getting on the sale of single cigarettes aldermen call “loosies.”

Last month, the mayor responded to the temporary setback with a defiant claim that Big Tobacco can stall the ordinance, but can’t stop it.

“They will not defeat the effort to put Chicago’s children on the right path….You can’t defeat it because the votes are there,” Emanuel said.

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