Smokers react to federal tax increase
Excise tax will increase from 39 cents to $1.01 for a pack of cigarettes. Prices also will increase for smoking materials and chewing tobacco. Revenues will go toward the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Steamboat Springs Editor's Note: This story has been changed from its original version, to correct the number of Routt County children enrolled in the Child Health Plan.
Smokers and chewers will burn more bucks buying tobacco when a federal tax increase goes into effect Wednesday.
The excise tax will increase from 39 cents to $1.01 for a pack of cigarettes. Taxes on tobacco for roll-your-own cigarettes will increase from $1.10 a pound to $24.78 a pound. Prices also will increase for smoking materials and chewing tobacco. The revenue will go toward the Children's Health Insurance Program.
Officials from Smoker Friendly, which sells tobacco products, call it an unfair increase.
"Obviously, they want to do good and take care of people who can't afford health insurance, but there's other ways they can find to support programs besides relying on tobacco tax," said Jeremy Weiner, sales and marketing manager for Boulder-based Smoker Friendly.
Weiner said he expected cigarette prices to increase by 90 cents a pack across the board. That includes increased manufacturers' costs and a 4 percent tax levied by Colorado, he said.
Weiner said he expected the price of a pound-bag of roll-your-own tobacco to increase from about $20 to about $70.
"That's one item that probably won't be carried at our store anymore," Weiner said.
The tax increase is meant to benefit children. It came as part of the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, which President Barack Obama signed Feb. 4.
The Children's Health Insurance Program, called the Child Health Plan in Colorado, helps people who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but can't afford private health insurance, said Evette Simmons, eligibility coordinator at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. It provides low-cost insurance for children and pregnant women.
"CHP really captures a lot of people that wouldn't otherwise have any other option, that's for sure," Simmons said.
According to Colorado Health Institute estimates Simmons provided, there are about 5,085 children in Routt County. Of those, about 314 are estimated to be eligible for the program. About 56 percent of eligible children are enrolled, and 43.6 percent aren't. Those numbers don't take into account recent increases in unemployment, Simmons wrote in an e-mail.
The tobacco tax could help provide care for 4 million more uninsured children, according to the American Lung Association.
Although they appreciate the good cause, patrons and management at Steamboat Springs' Smoker Friendly were frustrated with the price increase.
"Somebody's getting that extra buck," said Steamboat resident Chris Wahl, who said he spends about $30 a week on cigarettes. "It better be going to something."
He said the price of tobacco products already was inflated.
"A pack of smokes is really worth about 50 cents, and they're charging us six bucks," Wahl said.
Smoker Friendly Manager Barbara Chapman-Baker said her store has advertised the change to customers for about a month. Some people have said they planned to quit using tobacco products, she said.
Barb Parnell is the VNA's community health educator for tobacco cessation. People have told her they plan to quit rather than pay the higher prices, she said.
"I don't know why this was the breaking point. : This seems to be maybe the last straw for some people," Parnell said. The VNA offers quit kits in Routt, Moffat and Grand counties, she said.
People who want to quit can call a hot line at 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669), the Routt County VNA at 875-1882 or the Moffat County VNA at 871-7655.
Weiner said he expected an initial dip in sales at Smoker Friendly stores.
"There will probably be a little drop-off after April 1 because, I think, a lot of people that are in tune to the taxes have probably stocked up," he said. "So I'd say the first month or so, we'll probably be low on sales. It'll gradually come back. I think people will shift to more affordable products."
Chapman-Baker said manufacturers have increased prices ahead of the tax hike. She expects them to increase again. Most of her customers have suggestions for lawmakers, she said.
"The majority of them are in agreement: They should start taxing alcohol, taxing fast-food places," she said.
Chapman-Baker, who smokes, said that despite her displeasure with the increase, she's glad that Obama has been open about what he's doing and why.
"I hope it does some good," she said.