Tobacco tax goes into effect Wednesday

NORTHEAST ARKANSAS/SOUTHEAST MISSOURI (KAIT) - Tobacco and convenience stores in Southeast Missouri reported Tuesday an increase in sales due to Arkansas' state tobacco tax. According to the Stateline Truck Stop on Highway 67 north of Corning, cigarette sales are up 30% since early March. Wednesday, a new federal tobacco tax goes into effect.

"I just know that we're getting a lot of Arkansas business right now because we are the second lowest cigarette tax in the United States," said Jeralyn Goodman, manager of the Stateline Truck Stop. "Our increase in cigarette business has probably been 20-30 percent probably and they're buying a lot more quantity when they come. Instead of getting a couple of cartons like they usually would, they're getting 4-5 and some even 10-11."

The federal tax goes up 62 cents April 1st. Other tobacco products also go up in price. It's designed to raise money for a children's insurance program.

Click here to read the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009.

Missouri stores said business is booming. In Arkansas, stores reported a sharp decline in tobacco sales.

"There's a lot of customers coming in that used to buy cigarettes and they're buying other things, and I'll say cigarettes, and they'll say no, I bought mine at the state line," said Teresa Bray, assistant manager at Exxon in Corning. "Ordering has decreased. I used to order 60 cartons of Marlboros and now I'm down to 15-20 cartons a week."

Bray said she's received several complaints from customers upset with the federal tax hike, but the state tax has also been a source of controversy.

The Arkansas tax on tobacco went up March 1st to fund a state-wide trauma network. Smokers said they shouldn't be the only people to pay higher taxes.

"We're not the only ones that would be utilizing it, so why should we be the only ones paying for it," said Anita Blagg. "It was hard enough that when my kids were younger and I tried to quite, they'd pool their money and send their dad to the store to buy me a pack of cigarettes and threw them at me and left until I smoked a couple to calm down."

"Because we are addicted, it's not a habit, it's an addiction. And it's not an easy habit to break so we're going to smoke, and because we're going to smoke, they're going to raise the prices on us, and we're going to pay it," said Blagg.

Region 8 News found that several smokers and non-smokers didn't understand why tobacco taxes have increase so much. A pack of cigarettes can run anywhere from 1 dollar to 7 dollars.

"I've had a lot of people come in and they'll smoke Marlboros, and they'll say well, I can't afford Marlboros, which is ridiculous. What's your cheapest brand," said Bray. "People are going to go where they can get them the cheapest. A lot of them buy here right now because it's convenient. They don't like the price but they pay it anyway."

"It kind of caused a small panic I guess you could say. people that are avid smokers, they were trying to save money any way they could so they were going go get them right then, stock them up in their freezer so they'd have them for the rest of the year," said Goodman. "I'm sure that there will be some people that quit but I'd say the majority of them are just going to pay the extra cost and that's why they've done it to these certain people because they know they're addicted to cigarettes and they're not going to give them up so it's a good way to have a guaranteed income."

"They're not finding a way for everybody to help pay for this, just this group or this group, which isn't. It isn't fair to those of us who smoke because cigarettes were already expensive to begin with, and now they're raising the prices on them even more and yes, you can quite, people successfully quite, but it's hard. I had a doctor tell me that it is almost as difficult as kicking a heroin habit," said Blagg.

"I'm not a smoker and I don't think it's fair for somebody to be targeted, you know, what's the difference between somebody that buys soda or bread to be a target, for smokers, it's something that they choose to do and they want to do. If they want to smoke, it's their right," said Goodman.