Snuffing out illegal cigarettes means more revenue for County

Beneath floorboards, concealed by hidden compartments, behind false walls accessed by garage door openers, Cook County Department of Revenue (DOR) investigators have seen it all when it comes to hiding illegal cigarettes. Through determined enforcement efforts, DOR is now bringing in record-high revenue for the County while combating the sophisticated and slippery tobacco black market.

Over the last four years, DOR, working with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, has tripled its number of inspections, and nearly doubled the number of citations issued. DOR increased its number of inspections from 4,690 in 2013 to 7,858 in 2014. This 60 percent jump led to 1,548 citations being issued and $6.3 million in fines being assessed in 2014, a $2.3 million increase from 2013. Overall, the County collected $133.2 million in cigarette tax revenue (gross) in 2014.

“We are leveling the playing field, increasing public safety and collecting revenue owed to the County,” Preckwinkle said. “The National Association of Counties awarded our Department of Revenue the 2014 Achievement Award for their tobacco tax enforcement system and compliance efforts. We are becoming a national model for best practices in this area.”

A tobacco sniffing dog program piloted in 2014 resulted in 57 inspections and 72 citations issued over nine days. 3,506 packs were confiscated with fines totaling more than a quarter of a million dollars. These highly-trained dogs can detect the odor of tobacco and alert their handler where tobacco is concealed. Cook County Department of Revenue expects to deploy a full time canine and handler this summer to combat the sale of illegal/unstamped/untaxed cigarettes and tobacco products.

From the City of Chicago to the Village of Norridge, the Department of Revenue is also greatly increasing its partnerships with local law enforcement agencies. A recent tip from the Norridge Police Department yielded 1,638 packs of unstamped cigarettes hidden in a wall resulting in fines totaling $53,000.

Preckwinkle is also asking residents to report retailers who are in possession of illegal cigarettes. Citizens may receive up to $1,000 rewards if they report violations of the Cook County Tobacco Ordinance to the Department of Revenue leading to unlawful tobacco confiscation and a fine being paid. To report a tip please visit https://apps.cookcountyil.gov/dor/.

DOR is developing a mobile application to increase tips from the public, while increasing field surveillance, internet intelligence gathering and tracking activities to further clamp down on the illegal tobacco industry in the coming year.