SPRINGFIELD, IL - In advance of an upcoming Illinois cigarette tax increase, some convenience stores are running out of cigarettes because customers have been stocking up and the state is making it difficult for them to resupply, the Peoria Journal Star reports.
The convenience store owners said the state has restricted the distribution of tax stamps that must be attached to cigarette packages before they are sold to the public.
Last month, Illinois legislators voted to raise the state cigarette tax from 98 cents per pack to $1.98 per pack. The increase takes effect June 24.
William Fleischli, executive vice president of the Illinois Association of Convenience Stores, said people are buying in advance of the increase. "It's a guy that usually buys one carton. Now he wants to buy two or three, trying to save $18 or $20," he said, adding, "We are running out of product. They (the Department of Revenue) won't give the distributors any more cigarette stamps to buy, so the distributors can't put the stamps on them, and the distributors can't sell them to us."
Department of Revenue spokesman Greg Rivara said the state increased the number of stamps available to distributors by 25% to accommodate an expected run on cigarettes. "By making available 25% more (stamps), the idea was that added amount should accommodate the seasonal increase in demand, plus the anticipated demand (to beat the tax hike)," he said.
The Illinois Association of Wholesale Distributors disputes that claim.
"The sudden and what we believe to be the unfair allocation of stamp availability since early May is now beginning to disrupt the availability of cigarettes to retailers and ultimately customers," the association said. "On behalf of consumers and retailers throughout the state, we are working to assure that product is available as needed up to the date of the doubling of the cigarette tax."
Carl Adams, vice president of Ayerco Convenience Centers, said his stores are running low on cigarettes.
"We are running very tight, and, yes, we will be out," Adams said. "It depends on if anything happens, but we will be running out of selected brands by the first of the week."