Rising costs leading some to roll their own
By Casey Farrar
She doesn’t agree with a 35-cent-a-pack cigarette tax hike proposed by state legislators, but will it lead her to quit?
“I’m too addicted,” she says. “I might cut back, but I won’t quit.”
Richardson, 48, has been smoking since she was 13. She smokes a pack a day, and while she takes a couple cigarette breaks during the day, most of her smoking happens in the hours before and after work.
She quit years ago while she was pregnant, but says her nicotine addiction drew her back.
New Hampshire is one of at least 22 states considering tobacco tax increases this year.
If the proposed tax hike passes and takes effect July 1, it would be the third state tax increase in two years — bringing taxes to $1.68 per pack.
In 2007, the tax increased by 28 cents and last October lawmakers added another another 25 cents.
The latest measure passed the N.H. House earlier this month and is being considered by the Senate Finance Committee.
Smokers have also been hit by a federal tax increase of 62 cents per pack that went into effect this month, bringing the federal tax to $1.01. Revenue from the increase is set to fund the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
New Hampshire’s state cigarette tax is still lower than surrounding states and ranks 22nd in the country.
Vermont’s tax is $1.99; Maine and Connecticut charge $2; and Massachusetts smokers pay $2.51.
This month, a $1 increase brought Rhode Island’s state tax to $3.46 per pack, the highest in the nation. South Carolina holds the lowest state tax at 7 cents per pack, but pending legislation could increase it to as much as $1.
The highest combined state-local tax rate is a whopping $4.25 per pack in New York City.
While area smokers say the rising cost of cigarettes is a deterrent, none told The Sentinel that price increases would cause them to quit.
Candy Carr of Winchendon, Mass., works in Chesterfield, so she buys cigarettes in New Hampshire to save money.
She smokes a pack every three days, a habit she estimates costs her about $1,500 per year.
While she doesn’t like seeing cigarette prices go up, she says she understands why lawmakers might home in on tobacco products for added revenue.
“I get it,” Carr said. “It’s not a necessity of life. I’d rather see them do it this way than have milk or bread or egg prices go up by a dollar.”
And, she says, she supports putting the increased revenue for cigarettes toward health programs for children or programs aimed at helping smokers quit.
Roberta Mastrogiovanni, owner of the Corner News on Main Street in Keene, says customers talk to her about quitting all the time, but doesn’t know of any who have.
Her downtown shop sells cigarettes and materials for hand-rolled cigarettes, a cheaper option that many money-conscious smokers have been turning to recently, Mastrogiovanni says.
Prices for a pack of cigarettes at Corner News Thursday ranged from $3.99 to $7.40 per pack, averaging around $5.
The string of tax increases on cigarettes in recent years is “definitely a painful thing” for smokers, Mastrogiovanni says.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t hear story after story about the high prices of cigarettes,” said Mastrogiovanni, who has owned the downtown store for seven years. “To have another tax on top of that, everyone is going to be really irritable.”
And it’s something of a vicious cycle, Mastrogiovanni says, with financial woes during tough economic times leading some of her customers to smoke more to calm their nerves.
She hasn’t seen a drop in business because of the tax hikes, but says she wonders at what point people will draw the line.
Higher prices may be part of what’s leading more people to contact the Cheshire Coalition for Tobacco-Free Communities for help in quitting, says Program Director Kate McNally.
Requests for help have ratcheted up since the higher federal taxes kicked in this month, McNally says.
She meets with about six people per week for one-on-one consultations and leads support groups at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene and Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough that range from three to eight people at a time.
The coalition also provides discounted nicotine patches and gum and has been branching out to the Internet with online support on the Keene hospital’s Web site and a Facebook group called Cheshire Tobacco Treatment.
McNally says higher prices may discourage smokers, but should go hand-in-hand with a well-funded, comprehensive plan to help people stop smoking.
“Having increased prices, providing support and doing prevention work with children are all pieces of it,” McNally said.
But for smokers, like Richardson, who say even higher taxes wouldn’t push them to quit, the proposed hike is likely to be a drag.
u Learn more about tobacco cessation programs by calling the N.H. Smokers’ Helpline and Tobacco Resource Center at 1-800-879-8678 or visiting the Cheshire Coalition for Tobacco-Free Communities link at www.cheshire-med.com.