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Still Smoking

Tobacco sellers report

May 10, 2009
By RICHARD NILSEN, The Leader-Herald

The federal tobacco tax increase that began April 1 may not be having as much of an effect as last June's state tax increase of $2.75 - but it could be the final straw for some smokers.

In April, a 61-cents-per-cigarette pack and 40-cents-per- cigar tax went into effect. The cost of pipe tobacco also increased $1.73 per pound.

Area resident Kim Lyons said the most recent increase is having an effect on him and a co-worker at ProBuild in Johnstown.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Calvin Rider of Gloversville, left, purchases a couple of cartons of cigarettes from Jessica Weaver, a clerk at Smokers Choice in Johnstown, on Wednesday.

"I've been giving more thought to quitting," Lyons said. "I'm cutting back to a pack a day. [My co-worker] is down to six cigarettes a day."

He then joked, "I don't want to quit completely. The government needs our money and we've got to do our part."

At Smokers Choice of Upstate New York in Johnstown, Theresa Maryea said business at the store hasn't changed much since the tax increase, and may have actually gone up.

She said people may have been buying their cigarettes at higher-priced stores, but were now coming to the drive-through store to take advantage of what she said are lower prices.

Along with the purchases, there were complaints about the increases, she said.

"Business is much the same," she said. "There's just more yelling."

At Finkle Distributors in Johnstown, President Dan Finkle said the 2008 state tax increase had more of an effect on unit sales than the federal tax seems to be having.

"We had a decrease of 15 percent in unit sales of tobacco products in 2008," Finkle said. "People weren't necessarily quitting, they could go across state borders or to Native American reservations and get it cheaper. This time, we are seeing a 3 to 4 percent decrease."

Finkle said with half of their sales in food rather than tobacco products, the decrease is helping push the company into more emphasis on food products.

However, he didn't expect retailers necessarily would reduce sales or stop selling tobacco products because of the tax.

"They may lose some unit sales," he said. "But it's still a profitable item. I have to sell a lot of 45-cent cans of peas to keep up with a $60 carton of cigarettes."

Jerry Groom of Groom's Store in Caroga Lake gets his cigarettes from Finkle and said the increase in price is already in his cost when he gets the cigarettes for sale. He said the tax increases have been noticeable.

"Last year, a pack of USA generic cigarettes cost $3.94," he said. "This year, the same pack costs $6.48."

Groom said major brands of cigarettes were even higher, with Marlboros selling for $7.50 and Carltons at $8.33 a pack.

However, Groom said he has not seen any reduction in tobacco sales since the latest tax was added.

Director Rebecca Manwaring of Project Action through St. Mary's Hospital in Amsterdam said she felt the higher taxes were a win-win.

"It's a win for New York and the U.S.," she said. "And its a health win that will reduce health costs and support smoking prevention."

Manwaring said according to one survey, two-thirds of U.S. voters supported higher taxes on tobacco.

"In New York, it is projected there will be 77,400 fewer kids becoming adult smokers because of the tax," she said.

She also said there is a projected $1.7 billion savings in health costs and $483 million in Medicaid savings because of the tax.

"It's a proven strategy," she said. "According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids Web site, for every 10 percent increase in tobacco price there is a 7 percent reduction in smokers."

Director Ann Rhodes of HFM Prevention said she is sympathetic to those attempting to quit smoking.

"We've had a lot more calls about the New York State Quitline," she said. "Many people want to quit and are having a hard time."

Rhodes said the higher cost in stores may be the push needed by those who want to quit.

Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at



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