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Smokers' Cost

Local smokers react to state cigarette tax hike

July 6, 2008
By RICHARD NILSEN, The Leader-Herald

Local business owners and patrons had a number of responses to the new tax on cigarettes that began in early June - some not so nice.

According to the Join Together Web site, "calls to New York's Smoker's Quitline quadrupled in the first week after a new $2.75-per-pack cigarette tax went into effect, according to state health commissioner Richard Daines."

Customers at Smokers Choice Cigar and Cigarette Outlet in Johnstown voiced a combination of humor, disgust and resignation in their responses to the new tax.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen
Jessica Weaver waits on a drive-through customer while Ralph Vogel of Fonda waits at the counter at Smokers Choice Cigar and Cigarette Outlet in Johnstown Tuesday.

Kim Lyons of Strober Building Supply said he didn't think the state government had projected the possible outcomes of the new tax.

"I don't think they thought it through," Lyons said Tuesday. "What if everybody quits? Where will they get their revenues then?"

Lyons said he knew the government needed the money in revenues.

"I have to keep buying cigarettes and paying the taxes," Lyons said with a laugh. "I want to keep them afloat."

Jessica Weaver said she has worked at the outlet four years and most of her customers "didn't have anything nice to say" about the rise in cigarette taxes.

"Some are switching to cheaper brands or rolling their own," Weaver said.

She said she knows some customers are going elsewhere for their cigarettes - out of state where the taxes are less or to Native American reservations like Turning Stone where there is no tax charged.

"A lot of people are going out of state," Weaver said. "They are trying to avoid the tax. It's outrageous."

Weaver said the tax hadn't yet had any affect on business there as far as she could tell. The steady stream of customers at the outlet Tuesday seemed to bear out her opinion.

Weaver said some people were investing in roll-your-own machines so they could make their own cigarettes. She said the process required time and patience, but the savings could be nearly $40 per carton - $13 as compared to $50 for pre-packaged cigarettes.

"They have to make an initial investment in equipment, though," Weaver said.

She said for $20 to $70 a person could get the equipment needed to make their own cigarettes.

Weaver called many customers by name as they went by the drive-through window at the outlet. She had a supply of lollipops and dog treats to hand out with purchases.

"We sell only adult products here," Weaver said. "There's no reason children and animals riding along shouldn't get something too."

Weaver said people could drop from more than $50 per carton of brand-name cigarettes to $30 a carton by going to a generic cigarette, but a loss of quality would likely be the result as well.

"The first week of the month is always busy," she said. "That's when people get their Social Security checks."

Ralph Vogel of Fonda was buying some tobacco components Tuesday in order to make his own cigarettes. He said he was able to roll his own cigarettes for as little as $10 per carton.

"They put the sales tax on top of the other tax," Vogel said. "That's a tax on a tax. I thought we fought the Revolutionary War over that."

At Whitey's Edwards Meat Deli and Beverage in Johnstown, owner Steve Melita said he had yet to notice a big change in revenue from the tax increase.

"People are changing more to generic brands though," Melita said.

At Food and Fuel in Mayfield, owner Lou Stutzke said he was seeing about a 30 percent drop in sales of cigarettes.

"Fewer people are buying cartons," Stutzke said. "They are switching to generic brands or going elsewhere."

Stutzke said there had been a projection cigarette sales would drop by 50 percent and he had yet to see that happen.

"But this is our busy time in the summer," he said. "Maybe in the fall we'll see that kind of drop."

Stutzke said he was disgusted with the state's attitude towards business and was tired of being a revenue collector for the government. He said he has heard some customers say they would quit over the rise in cigarette prices, but feels caught in the middle.

"All I am is the state's money man," he said. "There's no chance to recoup lost sales and money in the changeover."

Stutzke said for those changing to chewing tobacco from smoking cigarettes, a new tax of 45-cents per roll of chewing tobacco was also being instituted. He agreed with Vogel as far as the unfairness of the tax.

"With sales tax, it's a tax on a tax," Stutzke said. "With one tax going to the state and the other to the local government, I guess it's a windfall both ways for them."

He said he was planning a $200,000 capital improvement project at the business, but the loss of sales due to the new taxes were giving him second thoughts.

"I will have a $400 per week net loss in sales," he said. "I've been here 12 years, but I have to ask - is it time to leave and start over somewhere else."

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



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