April 27, 2009
Smokers deal with latest tax hike
Federal, state taxes on a pack of cigarettes now amounts to $3.76
Cortland resident Mike Tomasso is a slight-framed man with an expensive habit.
Tomasso has been smoking for 40 years and is now up to a pack a day, but he said he will only stop if his Marlboro packs hit the $10 mark.
They’re edging closer.
Tomasso and his fellow smokers were hit April 1 with another tax increase. The federal tax rose to $1.01 per pack of cigarettes, from 39 cents.
The combined total of state and federal excise taxes on cigarettes amounts to $3.76 per pack. Excise taxes are sales tax levied per unit rather than as a percentage of the overall price of a product.
The latest increase makes cigarettes the highest-taxed commodity as a percentage of its price, among popularly consumed items, according to an official from the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax research group based in Washington, D.C.
“I’m already spending about $49 a week,” Tomasso said as he spent $7.62 Wednesday on a pack of Marlboros at the Daily Grind in Cortland.
Tomasso thinks the taxes are not fair, saying “it is the people’s choice to smoke.”
“For people who work hard and they jack up the prices, it’s crazy but there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.
The Obama administration increased the federal tax to fund the expansion of the State Children Health Insurance Program, which provides health insurance to families whose income level is too high to qualify for Medicaid. The program is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In the store, the tax increase translates to about $5.86 on a pack of Carnivals, the cheapest pack offered at the Daily Grind, and about $7.84 for Parliaments, the most expensive brand.
The state tax has remained steady since June 2008 at $2.75 per pack, according to information provided by the Tax Foundation. The state tax had been $1.50 per pack since 2003.
The $3.76 is applied to any pack of cigarettes, regardless of brand, said Tax Foundation Communication Director William Ahern, who decries the tax, saying it unfairly targets a disadvantaged population.
“Most smokers are poor. Smoking is a vice of the poor. There is no mass produced, mass consumed product with a poorer customer base than tobacco,” Ahern said.
The tax is costly for a habit that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the leading preventable cause of death in America. According to the center, cigarette smoking is responsible for about 443,000 deaths annually.
The price hike has been felt by local consumers and caused some to rethink their habits but others are not discouraged by the high prices.
“I’m upset with the prices but I still smoke the same,” said Cortland resident Chuck Ray who splits a pack of Sonoma’s each day with his girlfriend.
But one young Homer resident with pink streaks in her hair and adorned by multiple piercings, spoke vehemently against the habit she has developed over the past four years.
Eighteen-year-old Ashley Sockbeson said she has been cutting back from the pack a day she had been smoking. Sockbeson stood with other friends in the parking lot by the Main Street Marketplace Mall and said she thinks taxing cigarettes is a good thing for the overall health of the community that affects some people negatively.
“It is hard. As a smoker you have outbreaks, if you’re in a bad mood you’ll smoke and they are taxing the heck out of cigarettes,” Sockbeson said.
Sockbeson said that even when bumming a cigarette now, people will charge a quarter per cigarette.
“Now instead of paying about $8 a day I’m paying $8 every other day,” Sockbeson said. “It’s a stress reliever.”
Another smoker, James Postma lit up a cigarette outside of Beer Goggles Bar in Cortland on Friday and said he has taken to rolling his own cigarettes since April’s price hike.
“Now I buy a pouch which rolls about 20 cigarettes and it costs the same as a pack of cigarettes was before the tax raise,” Postma said, adding he is saving a little but not much.
Postma said he used to smoke Camels and is currently trying to quit, having reduced his intake to about 10 cigarettes daily.
“I think if someone wants to smoke it is their own decision and it is insane to tax someone for it. And some people can’t quit so it just makes them broke and miserable,” Postma added.
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