BANGOR, Maine — The federal tax on a pack of cigarettes jumped by 62 cents on Wednesday, but local store owners said their customers are taking the price increase in stride.
“A few have said, ‘I guess it’s time to quit,’ but do I really think they’re going to quit? No,” said Frank Coglitore, owner of the Cigar & Smoke Shoppe on Main Street. “Probably more will get into roll-your-own. They still want to smoke.”
Although rolling tobacco also is subject to a new tax, Coglitore said people still can make their own smokes for the equivalent of about $2.50 a pack, significantly less than the roughly $6 it costs to buy a pack of name-brand cigarettes.
And if his customers don’t want to roll their own?
“They can quit,” he shrugged. “I tell them not to crab about it.”
Up the street at Waterfront Convenience, owner Raena Everett said smokers have been aware of the tax increase for weeks — especially those who smoke cigarettes manufactured by tobacco giants Philip Morris or R.J. Reynolds. Those companies raised their prices by 80 cents a pack about three weeks ago, Everett said, to get ahead of an anticipated slump in sales after the new tax took effect.
“You want to guess how much money they’ve made?” she asked.
For the most part, her customers have been “pretty apathetic” about the jump in price, she said.
“I do think more people will try to quit,” Everett said. “I don’t know if that’s what [the government] wants, or if they just want the money.”
Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday that the additional federal tax revenues will be spent on expanding health care coverage for children. Even though the increased cost will result in more people kicking the habit, she said, “it makes good sense to pay for health care with tobacco taxes.” Although there’s a time lag, she said, health care costs go down as tobacco use declines.
David Spaulding, manager of the Maine Tobacco Helpline, said calls have been increasing steadily over the past eight weeks, with more people citing the cost of smoking as their prime motivation to quit. At this time of year, Spaulding said, the help line typically would enroll about 100 prospective quitters a week. But last week, the number was almost 300, he said.
Spaulding said top motivators include the cost of cigarettes, health concerns and life events such as marriage or the birth of a grandchild. Regardless of the motivation, he said, a combination of being highly motivated and highly self-confident increases the likelihood of success.
Several smokers who were asked to comment on the new tax Wednesday declined the opportunity. But, enjoying an early afternoon smoke break outside the Airport Mall, 36-year-old Cindy Lewis of Milo said she’s been rolling her own cigarettes for a couple of years. The two-pack-a-day smoker doesn’t much like the new tax, but “it won’t make me quit,” she said.
The number of the Maine Tobacco Helpline is 800-207-1230.