Chicago, like many other places in the world, is a city that thrives upon the informal economy. Individuals in Black and Brown neighborhoods in Chicago are finding a way around buying cigarettes by the pack, as each of those purchases are taxed $7.17. Their solution: sell loosies.

Loosies are loose cigarettes.

Here’s how it works: Cigarettes are bought by the carton outside the city at a lower price and resold individually in the street. Two cigarettes are sold for a dollar; sometimes there is a three for $2 deal. However, this may change.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed an ordinance which may be come law that selling cigarettes like this could be punishable by up to six months in jail or fines up to $10,000. It’s part of the mayor’s effort to reduce teen smoking, which is also doing by rising the smoking age to 21.

Ald. Jason Ervin, a cop, believes that these cigarette sales replicate the illegal drug trade and need to be stopped, but instead of criminalizing the issue, it is time to think about the government’s role in creating market forces behind this effect.

When we raise tobacco taxes to discourage smoking, disadvantaged people in communities of color find alternate ways to go about getting their fix another way, more likely than not, adding another illegal activity to this issue. But is that a personal issue or a structural one?

“If cigarettes were at $7 a pack, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” Ervin said to the Chicago Sun Times reporter.

Cigarettes in Chicago are about $12 a pack. In Hammond, a ten-pack carton can be bought for $51. That equates to about 200 cigarettes in the pack, which if two cigarettes are being sold for $1 each that’s a $100 in revenue.

Remember, this is the same “crime” for which Eric Garner was murdered by NYPD in 2014.

So how do we fix this? How do we fix the issue of selling loosies and inevitability of illegal black market activity in the city? Ervin has an answer.

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

Is it that simple? Can it be done so easily? I guess we’ll have to see.


Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images