Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today announced the results of her administration’s crack down on illegal cigarette sales.
Since taking office, the County has nearly tripled the number of inspections, going from roughly 3,000 to roughly 9,000. These inspections have resulted in nearly twice as many confiscations, totaling more than 75,000 packs of cigarettes. President Preckwinkle’s administration has issued more than 3,400 citations and collected more than $1.8 million in cigarette tax fines.
“Illegal cigarette sales and smuggling represent a lucrative black-market enterprise,” President Preckwinkle said. “We’ve seen dealers switch their focus from traditional drugs to smuggling cigarettes from places like Missouri, because it is more profitable and carries less jail time. This problem is not limited to one part of the county or one type of business. The county is inspecting small gas stations, night clubs, bars, and big box stores.”
The Department of Revenue has used a combined strategy of field intelligence, anonymous tips and cooperation with other law enforcement agencies to target businesses believed to be skirting the law.
Under President Preckwinkle’s direction, the county will continue to increase the number of inspectors. By the end of this year there will be 14 inspectors in the field, a dedicated increase in resources that were approved as part of the FY2013 budget. Sheriff’s police, who accompany investigators on inspections, have played a critical role in the County’s success.
Cigarette tax enforcement continues to be one of the bright spots in the county’s budget. In 2014, the County expects to bring in $133 million in tobacco tax revenue, a nearly $5 million increase from our preliminary budget estimates. Since taking office, the President’s administration has reduced average annual tobacco tax revenue declines from 14.8% to roughly 2.8%, and expects almost no decline in 2014.
In the coming months the Department of Revenue plans to build on its success by expanding enforcement efforts for other tobacco products, the liquor tax and the gasoline tax.
President Preckwinkle also acknowledged the critical role the public plays in rooting out illegal cigarette sales. In 2011, the county created the Cigarette Rewards Program, which allows residents to provide tips to the Department of Revenue. If a tip leads to a confiscation and the violators pay their fines, the county issues individual rewards ranging from $250 to $1,000. In two years, 42 people have been eligible for awards totaling $15,750.
“Crime prevention works best when there’s cooperation between law enforcement and residents,” Preckwinkle said. “I encourage individuals and businesses to take advantage of this resource to help stamp out illegal cigarette sales in Cook County.”