Price of cigarettes going up again next month

pramati@macon.comMarch 20, 2009 

Bumming a cigarette off a friend may get a little harder, considering how expensive cigarettes are getting.

Beginning April 1, the federal government will increase the excise tax on cigarettes, meaning that taxes will go from the current 39 cents per pack to $1.01 per pack — an increase of more than 150 percent.

“We’re getting the butt end of the deal in every way,” said Charles Johnson of Macon, who was enjoying a smoke at lunch with some friends at Cheers on Northside Drive.

Some manufacturers began adding in the excise costs early, and some retailers and distributors have increased prices. All of it has triggered complaints from smokers — but not much of a drop-off in sales so far, based on a sampling of stores.

Merita Jones, manager of the Enmark service station on Mercer University Drive, said customers have bent her ear about the situation, especially those who smoke brands such as Pall Malls, which run $51.79 per carton in her store.

Sales, however, have remained fairly consistent, with only a slight decrease, she said.

“(Customers) want us to know about it,” Jones said. “They think we have something to do with it. ... (People) are going to have to adjust to it if they still want to smoke. What else can they do?”

Some people are using the price increase to motivate themselves to stop smoking. Georgina Wall of Gray said the price increase won’t affect her much.

“I plan on quitting” by April 1, she said.

Frank Patterson, who was having lunch with Johnson, put a positive spin on the tax increase. Besides helping to motivate him to quit smoking, Patterson noted that revenue generated by the tax will benefit health insurance for poor children.

“For the economy, I think it’s good,” he said.

But with many people struggling now because of job losses and other ill effects of the reeling economy, paying more for anything isn’t welcome news. Still, things could have been worse for smokers. Earlier this year, the Georgia General Assembly considered legislation for a state tax of $1 per pack, in addition to the federal tax. The legislation never made it out of committee, though.

Jones, who said she is trying to quit smoking because of high blood pressure concerns, said cigarette sales make up about 10 percent of her store’s business, behind gasoline and groceries. The Enmark corporate office will adjust prices and inform stores what to charge.

“We’re still doing OK,” she said. “The carton sales are being hit the most. We’re not selling cartons like we used to. ... But people will find a way to get their smokes, even if they have to buy them one pack at a time.”

That’s the philosophy of Henry McCoy of Macon. McCoy said he smokes two packs a day and is adjusting his personal budget for the tax increase.

“It doesn’t bother me. I’m going to smoke regardless,” he said. “I keep my money for my gas and cigarettes and my money for my bills separated.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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