Chicago’s new older smoking age could increase Indiana sales

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Chicago's move to raise the minimum age to purchase cigarettes to 21 could increase smoke shop sales in northwestern Indiana, experts said.

Smokers have to be 18 years old to buy cigarettes in Indiana, where nearly two dozen smoke shops are scattered near the state line in northwestern Indiana cities near Illinois such as Hammond, Munster and Dyer to capitalize on the comparatively lower Indiana taxes.

"We absolutely welcome them with open arms," said Kathy Marks, who owns K & D Smoke Shop near the state line in Hammond.

A carton of Marlboro Reds costs about $60 in Indiana, compared to $120 to $130 in Illinois. Many Illinois residents already buy cigarettes in Indiana because it's cheaper, The Times of Munster reported. Marks estimated that about 90 percent of her business comes from Illinois and said customers usually buy several cartons at once.

Micah Pollak, an assistant professor of economics at Indiana University Northwest, said Chicago's older smoking age will definitely increase tobacco sales in northwestern Indiana, mostly from Chicago residents who live near Indiana or who visit the state regularly.

He noted that the smoke shops see fireworks customers from all over Illinois. However, he points out that those younger than 21 can still travel to the suburbs or outside the Chicago city limits to buy cigarettes.

"Unlike fireworks, which are mostly illegal across the entire state of Illinois, this new ordinance raises the minimum legal age of smoking only within the city of Chicago," Pollak said. "As a result, we are likely to see the biggest increase in sales from Chicago residents who are already traveling across the border, either to work or to otherwise spend time in northwest Indiana, or those that live closest to the border."

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