Friday, July 4, 2008

Cigarette tax kicking butt

PITTSFIELD — Smokers felt the first burn of the state's new $1 tax increase on cigarettes yesterday.
"It's disgusting, people can't live today with all of these taxes, it's killing business," said a patron of A-Mart on North Street, who identified himself as "Stoney."
The statewide cigarette tax increase of $1 went into effect yesterday, after passage in the Legislature late Monday and Gov. Deval L. Patrick's signature yesterday.
In January, the average nationwide price of a pack of cigarettes was $4.25, as reported by a study tracking state cigarette prices, but in Massachusetts, an average pack cost $5.41.
With the total tax now at $2.51, Massachusetts now
Projections are that the tax hike will raise up to $174 million in revenues to help support the state's health insurance programs. Medical News Today, an online newsletter reported in February that the state's subsidized health insurance coverage could cost the state as much as $1.35 billion over the next several years.
"If they were smart, they would have the same tax that New Hampshire has," said Mark Parrott, manager of A-Mart in Pittsfield, where he was tagging new prices yesterday.
The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids reports that New Hampshire's cigarette tax is $1.08 per pack.
"They claim that they will raise $175 million with
this tax increase, but they will actually raise less, because they are not going to get the same number of consumers that they had before," said Parrott. "Some are going to quit smoking, and others are going to go to (buy in) other states."
For smokers, the cigarette tax adds to the increasing cost of gas and other commodities. But lawmakers hope the new tax will cause consumers to quit smoking.
But some smokers won't quit.
"Smoking is undoubtedly an addiction, in fact, it is more addictive than many more expensive drugs," said Emily Blanchard, community health worker for the Berkshire Area Health Education Center.
"Everyone has their own individual struggles, for one person it might be more difficult to quit than it would be for another person," she said.
During the month of June, the state was offering free two-week supplies of nicotine patches to individuals who called 1-800-trytostop. The program may continue depending on how successful it was, Blanchard told the Eagle.
Though Gloria Wilson feels the tax is too much, none of her friends seem upset by the increased tax, she said.
For many smokers, cigarettes use has been a part of their lifestyles since they were teenagers, said Wilson, a Pittsfield resident.
"I have smoked since I was 14," she said.
Pittsfield resident Anne Bishop, who was smoking a cigarette at a North Street park on Tuesday, said she's been smoking since she was in high school.
"I could quit if I wanted to, I have in the past, I could quit if they kept increasing the tax," Bishop said, but she indicated no intentions of quitting now.
She said cigarettes are not the products that should receive a tax increase.
"I think instead of increasing (the tax on) cigarettes, they should increase a liquor tax," Bishop said. "Drinking is more of a problem to quit, they should increase an alcohol tax. People drink, and then that makes them smoke more," she said.