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March 1, 2015

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Cigarette smokers bemoan increased federal tax

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A new federal tax that increased the government's cut from every pack of cigarettes sold by about 62 cents went into effect Monday, but smokers have already been paying the additional cost for about a month.

At the Green Valley Smoke Shop at Pecos and Windmill roads on Wednesday afternoon, part-owner Nic Petrcaro said all the brands he sells raised their prices to cover the additional tax, as well as a little bit extra to cover anticipated drops in sales.

Petrcaro said he's hearing his customers grumble about the increase. Some have switched to cheaper brands; some have taken up electronic cigarettes.

Many have threatened to quit, he said, but only one or two regulars have stopped coming into the shop since the prices went up.

"It's the same stuff: 'I'm going to quit now, but give me a carton for the last time,'" Petrcaro said. "Same old, same old."

The new tax, which raises the federal excise tax on tobacco to a little more than $1 per pack, will fund an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP), which provides health care for children of households that make too much money to qualify for Medicare, but can't afford private health insurance.

Petrcaro said he understands the business of tax increases on cigarettes and is used to them, but said this is the largest single increase he's ever seen and worries about how it will affect business.

Glori Papadopoulos, a regular at Green Valley Smoke Shop, had nothing good to say about the tax increase after paying $40 for a carton of Misty Lights — which a month ago cost her less than $31.

The biggest problem, she said, is that the new cigarette tax is unfair when compared with other vice taxes.

"Beer, wine and whiskey — those taxes didn't go up the same, and (people drinking) are the ones out there driving drunk and hurting people," Papadopoulos said.

She said the new price won't get her to quit — she's tried patches, pills and hypnosis, and none of them have worked. She's a big supporter for anti-smoking programs for youth, she said, but has given up on the notion of quitting.

"(Quit) at my age? No way," Papadopoulos said. "Not at my age."

Another Green Valley customer, Greg Bilal, said Nevada smokers still don't pay as much as smokers in other parts of the country, because of varying state taxes on cigarettes.

"I guess (the new tax) isn't that big of a shock to me," Bilal said. "I've lived on the East Coast, where we pay $8 to $10 for a pack."

That may not last long, however.

Petrcaro said his biggest concern is with the Nevada Legislature, where a bill has been introduced that would increase the state's tax on cigarettes by an additional $1 a pack. The increase, part of Assembly Bill 255, would provide additional funding for Nevada's CHIP and health care for pregnant women.

"People have already accepted this price, but now Nevada is talking about raising the state tax by another $10 per carton," he said. "That would be a killer."

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