Updated: November 15, 2011 9:31AM
Chicago-area stores profiting from under-the-table cigarette sales may see that business plan go up in smoke.
That’s because Cook County is stepping up enforcement of its $2-a-pack cigarette tax, offering rewards of up to $1,000 to anyone whose information that a store is skirting the tobacco tax leads to arrests, county board President Toni Preckwinkle and Sheriff Tom Dart announced Friday.
In 2006, the county collected about $200 million in cigarette tax revenue, but that dropped to about $126 million last year.
“There’s probably some people who have given up smoking, but I don’t think that accounts for $74 million (less),” Dart said.
After beefing up the investigative arm of the county revenue department and bringing sheriff’s officers in to assist in recent weeks, the county has hit some stores with more than $400,000 in fines for those selling cigarettes under the tax radar. In all of 2010,
$1.6 million in fines were levied.
Revenue from the cigarette tax helps pay for law enforcement and the county health and hospital system, Preckwinkle said. That money is crucial as she works to close a $315 million gap in next year’s
$3 billion budget plan that she plans to unveil soon.
Dart said tax cheats are typically ratted out by neighboring stores where owners are paying the cigarette tax. Preckwinkle said to encourage reporting, rewards are being offered to anyone who helps track a tax cheat by calling the tip hotline at (312) 603-6870, Ext. 3.