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Franklin County area smokers fired up about cigar tax

The struggling state coffers will burden smokers to get more revenue.
Little cigars -- the ones that come with filters in sweet flavors and look like cigarettes -- will more than double in price because of the state budget crisis.

Beginning Nov. 1, the cigars will cost an additional $1.60 per pack. The price will jump from 99 cents a pack to $2.59. At the same time, the price of cigarettes will go up an additional 25 cents.

"They need to start picking on the drinkers for a change, and not just the smokers," said Melody Hopkins, manager of Puff N Snuff, Chambersburg. "There's not a lot of people who would die because you light up on the road, but a lot of people die when you drink and drive."

The state tax on small cigars was only recently passed. It equals about 8 cents per stick.

"There were some proposals that involved all cigars and smokeless tobacco, but the one that passed was for small cigars," said Wendy Lewis, budget analysis for the Democratic House Committee on Appropriations in Harrisburg.

Currently there is no tax on small cigars.

"They are not going after the blunts, or the larger hand-wrapped cigars," Hopkins said. She believes a few people might be forced to quit smoking.

"Overall, people still are going to have their vices," she said. "They're not going to give up smoking. They'll give up something else, but not their smoking."

In her opinion, the government is "just out to get the smokers." She said: "They need to pick on somebody else for a while."

State Rep. Todd Rock, R-Mont Alto, opposes the tax. Speaking by phone Monday, he said: "I'm opposed to any new taxes. I have received many, many calls from smokers. They thought it was unfair. They've been taxed so many times. I don't think it's fair, either."

Rock typically receives about 20 phone calls on an important issue. On the issue of cigar taxes, he received calls from 63 people saying, "Don't raise the taxes on my cigars."

Like local tobacco dealers, Rock has strong feelings on the subject.

"I think it's wrong to single out a group, especially one that's addicted to nicotine, and we know this," he said. "It is part of the budget deal. The largest cigars were taken out of the deal."

Eric Christie, owner of Christie's House of Pipes in Waynesboro, is concerned about the tax and critical of the government's effort to single out groups of people. In his view, the governor wants to "tax the daylights" out of smokers.

"People can't afford to buy them now," he said. "They're still buying cigars, but they're buying those that are a little less expensive. Look at this area. It's hurting bad with layoffs."

According to Christie, things were bad enough when smokers saw a 2,000 percent increase in taxes from the federal government on the excise tax.

"I don't know why the government feels it can single out individual groups of people to pay for everybody else's tax," he said. "I would have to think that the majority of smokers are middle class people. Cigars are not a luxury item.

"There are lots of middle class people who smoke cigars. These are the people who are losing their jobs. They are being targeted."

Christie questioned where the government will get the revenue if people quit smoking.

Some people feel the tax could encourage smuggling.

According to Chris McCalla, legislative director for the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association, a trade association based in Columbus, Ga., heavily taxed tobacco products in other states have encouraged illegal smuggling.

"So, not only would such a tax on cigars potentially cause the loss of businesses, jobs and tax revenues, it would encourage illegal activities, which force the state's legal system to divert its attention from more important matters," he said in a statement to the press.

McCalla argued that "the real losers will be Pennsylvania's discriminating cigar smokers at all economic levels who enjoy their premium cigars just as they might enjoy a single-malt Scotch whisky or a bottle of good wine."

Source: Chambersburg Public Opinion