Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) | File

Alderman Jason Ervin (28th) has come out against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed ordinance that would make life even harder for people selling loose cigarettes. If the ordinance becomes law, those caught selling the ‘loosies,’ as they’re often called on the streets, could face up to six months in jail or fines of up to $10,000. The legislation is part of Emanuel’s broader effort to combat teen smoking, which also includes raising the eligibility age to 21.

Cigarettes sold in Chicago are already taxed at $7.17 a pack, the highest such tax in the nation. The tax has created a black market trade in loose cigarettes.

“Do we really want to lock up a guy selling loose cigarettes? It’s crazy,” Ervin told Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown for a Feb. 20 article.

Ervin told Brown that, while he understands the reasoning behind regulating the nuisance trade, the mayor’s approach is just another way to penalize the city’s poor and minority residents, some of whom engage in the illicit cigarette trade because of an absence of legitimate, well-paying jobs. An enterprising seller, Brown noted, could return a significant profit.

“The cigarettes are purchased by the carton outside the city at much lower prices, then resold illegally on the street,” Brown writes. “Two cigarettes for a dollar is the going rate, sometimes three for $2.”

“It ain’t like they bootlegging whiskey or selling drugs,” one man told Brown. “They don’t want to go to jail for doing something really illegal.”

“You could kill all this. Just change the tax policy,” Ervin said.