April 2016

$15.80 E-liquid Tax: Chicago Unwelcomes You


By Jenee Fowler

Do you enjoy selecting e-liquid at a fair price from your local vape shop? Do you like supporting your neighborhood brick and mortar by rewarding their convenience with your money? Is there a favorite employee who has walked you through tough vaping issues or made an effort to understand your personal story? If you happen to be one of Chicago’s 2.7 million residents, then that’s too bad.

As Clayton Guse so eloquently put it in his article for Time Out Chicago, “This isn’t the first time [Chicago] has cracked down on vaping. In April 2014, e-cigarettes were officially banned in most public places in Chicago, much to the chagrin of the jerks who vaped inside bars and restaurants. The city forced them to go outside with the rest of the smokers, and the new tax will force them to pay up just like cigarette smokers.” I am still a big advocate for respectful vaping in public, but since my devices have been able to produce large visible clouds I have seriously reconsidered my definition of respectful. I still think the message can be spread anywhere smoking is acceptable, even in some instances where the law is broken, but no one is harmed.

I vape while waiting on the L (Chicago’s elevated transit system, operated under Chicago Transit Authority, or CTA), as long as no one else is near enough to be bothered. I actually didn’t do that when I first moved to the area in January 2015, because I was accustomed to the subway system in Manhattan (where they don’t screw around). That changed recently when a few friendly CTA employees let me know that they

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didn’t mind at all. They even assured me that no one would bother to give me a citation as long as I wasn’t disturbing others. So far this has proven true, but I remain cautious and careful.

Honestly, as much as they’d like to point fingers at indiscriminate cloud chuckers, I think the answer may end in zeros. “(…) the tax is expected to bring in some sweet, sweet cash to help plug the city’s colossal pension deficit (Chicago’s on the hook for $672 million payment to the police and fire pension funds next year),” Clayton continued in his Dec 2015 article for the Time Out Chicago (just before the tax law was made official).

Establishments outside the city of Chicago are off the hook for the tax, and some wording of the law does allow
for completely legal loopholes. According to cityofchicago.org “This is a tax on the retail sale of Liquid Nicotine Product in the City. The rate is $.80 per liquid nicotine product unit plus an additional $0.55 per fluid milliliter of consumable liquid, gel, or other solution contained in the product. Some taxable examples are “E-liquids, e-juice, and smoke juice containing nicotine”.

Not only did city shops in Chicago have to start charging an additional $.80 cents per bottle, they are now forced to add $.50 cents to every milliliter in that bottle that has any amount of nicotine in it. So, you end up paying an additional $15.80 in taxes per bottle of your favorite smoke juice.

Fortunately many establishments have been able to remain fair to their customers. At Cloud Vapor Lounge (a Chicago Gem off the Western Blue Line stop), Tom Fisher explained how he’s dealing with the crackdown. “If customers want to add nicotine to one of the hundreds of nicotine free e-liquids we carry, they can simply purchase that separately. We sell 1 milliliter nicotine solution packages and send them home with you in a child safe container, or you can take advantage of our ultrasonic mixer. The 1 mil will cost around four dollars, including the price of the nicotine pouch and the city taxes.”

The city of Chicago isn’t just spending all that tax money on worthy items like retirement funds for it’s loyal employees. An anti-vaping campaign, replete with billboards and buses to reduce the traffic to business like Fisher’s. Warnings in bold colors proclaim “Vaping: Why Risk It?” and “Vaping, liquid poison!” from nearly every corner of the city.

While discussing the city’s appropriation of funds toward this massive campaign at Cloud Vapor Lounge, Donna, a regular there, offered her opinion. “I think vaping is glamorous. Look I’ll show you” she said as she removed her phone and started scrolling through pictures. “I was married just last week”, a pause for congratulations, “and I insisted the photographer took this picture.” Donna hands me her phone and this beautiful image appears:

“Some of my family members thought I was a little crazy for wanting this picture, but the photographer totally got it.” she said. “Local businesses make the city of Chicago a home. It’s a place that people from all over the world travel to see what separates Chicago from the rest. Local business tax money supports all of Chicago’s functions from snow plowing to street paving to building parks like the 606 that draws people to want to make a home here. This is what separates us from the suburbs. Suburbs have chains in every strip mall. In Chicago, local businesses know their customers and form relationships and makes people want to stay in Chicago and spend their money, which in turn, supports our municipality.”

While many people aren’t rattled by the city’s scare tactics, some will fall prey to it’s baseless propaganda. Those people will most likely stick to what they know, cigarettes. And what does Chicago gain from this? Will the city find it’s missing $627 million by taxing the life out of local business and keeping smokers out in the cold?