Downtown tobacco shop alleges new city tax illegal

The self-proclaimed oldest tobacco shop in the country has filed a motion for injunctive relief against the city, alleging a yet-to-be-enacted tobacco tax violates state law.

Iwan Ries & Co., a 159-year-old purveyor of pipes and cigars at 19 S. Wabash, filed the motion against the city and Department of Finance Comptroller Erin Keane Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court.

The shop, which was joined in the suit by several trade and tobacco sales groups, alleges the new tax passed by the Chicago City Council on March 16 violates a 1993 amendment to state law.

According to the filing, the state declared municipalities that did not impose “a tax based on the number of units of cigarettes or tobacco products before July 1, 1993, shall not impose such a tax after that date.”

Iwan Ries and its fellow plaintiffs allege “the City is precluded from enacting the Tobacco Tax and from attempting to impose any tax of any kind of non-cigarette ‘tobacco products.'”

“This lawsuit by the agents of Big Tobacco is no surprise,” Emanuel spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said in an emailed statement Wednesday night. “From day one of his administration Mayor Emanuel has fought to put tobacco products out of the reach of our kids and this ordinance built upon this record while generating funding for critical summer programming in Chicago Public Schools.”

Huffman added that the city’s Department of Law “will vigorously defend the tobacco prevention ordinance as part of the City’s overall effort to ensure the health of our youth.”

The new taxes passed by the city council include $1.80 per ounce of smoking tobacco; 60 cents per ounce of pipe tobacco; 20 cents per little cigar; and 20 cents per large cigar, according to the city.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to find the tax illegal. It is scheduled to go into effect July 1.