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$moke ’em ... If you can afford ’em

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New cigarette tax started April 1

By Ron Benningfield

House Bill 144, doubling the state tax on cigarette sales, went into effect today, and tobacco consumers have been very vocal in their reaction.

 “It’s ridiculous; highway robbery,” said Sue Ann Twyman as she bought a pack of cigarettes at Smoketown II on Lincoln Boulevard across from LaRue County High School. 

Clyde Viers, another local cigarette customer at the business, agreed.

“A little bit of an increase wouldn’t have been too bad, but this sure is,” he said. “I’m already cutting down, and trying to quit.”

Penny Childress, a three-year employee at Smoketown, said those responses are similar to the hundreds of others she has heard in recent days.

“A lot of them say they’re going to quit smoking, that they just can’t afford it, while others say they’re switching to cheaper brands,” Childress said.   

House Bill 144 was created to generate additional revenue intended to help the governor minimize budget cuts, particularly to education, Medicaid and Corrections, helping eliminate the state’s projected $456 million revenue shortfall this fiscal year.

It includes a 30-cent increase in the cigarette tax; increasing the tax on “other tobacco products” (dry and moist snuff) from 9.5 cents to 19 cents per tin; increasing the chewing tobacco tax from 7.5 percent to 15 percent; and adding 6 percent sales tax, by removing the sales tax exemption, to store sales of beer, wine and liquor.

Additionally, a federal excise tax of 62 cents per pack has been levied on manufacturers. Some companies, including Phillip Morris and R.J. Reynolds have increased their prices to outlets by seven dollars per carton, which, when passed on to consumers will raise the price of a carton by almost $10.

Childress said her store’s most popular seller, Marlboro, manufactured by Phillip Morris, sold for $36.99 plus tax per carton before today’s increase. 

“People have been buying a lot more cigarettes in the weeks before the increase,” she said. “They didn’t want to pay the extra money after the increase went into effect.”

Mike Page, manager at Hodgenville’s Save-A-Lot grocery, said cigarette sales there have been mostly “business as usual.”

“I don’t think the increase will hurt business,” he said. “People will continue to smoke if they want to.”

Curtis Beeler, manager of Hodgenville’s IGA store, said his company has cut back on orders of some cigarette brands.

“I really see nothing positive at all coming out of the increase,” he said. “People don’t blame IGA, but several have said they’re cutting down.”

Twyman, a pack-a-day smoker, said she was going to try to quit.

“But it’s awfully hard to do,” she said.