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Area smokers will pay to keep puffing

December 02, 1998|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Area retailers say they don't believe a recent price increase of up to 50 cents for a pack of cigarettes will persuade most smokers to kick the habit.

"There's been a lot of complaining and threatening to quit. But I seriously doubt it," said Beverly Bell, manager of Liquor Locker on Hagerstown's Dual Highway.

Bell said many of her customers likely will switch from more expensive name-brand cigarettes to generic or even subgeneric brands, which sell for 25 to 50 cents less.

The Liquor Locker is selling major brands by the pack for $2.76, generics for $2.43 and subgenerics for $2.19.

Cartons will cost up to $4.50 more: $25.85 for name brands and $21.89 for a generic and $21.22 for a subgeneric brand, she said.

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Generic and subgeneric brands are less expensive than the nationally known brands like Marlboro.

"They'll probably switch to the generic or subgeneric - they're addicted. Unless they're using the patch or the pill," she said.

Philip Morris USA, the nation's biggest tobacco company, and other manufacturers raised wholesale prices of their cigarette brands by 45 cents a pack on Nov. 23.

The increase was made the same day Philip Morris finalized a legal settlement to resolve states' claims for reimbursement for providing health care to sick smokers.

As a result, the national average cost of a pack of cigarettes jumped 25.6 percent.

A pack-a-day smoker herself, Bell said she spends $21 a week on Virginia Slims menthols, but hasn't decided if she will switch brands or quit.

"Almost $3 a pack is a little much for anybody's budget," she said.

Bell said while the price may be lower, the taste of the lower-quality cigarettes takes getting used to.

She said the Liquor Locker has seen a drop in cigarette sales since last week's price increase, but she is not worried.

Bell said the business relies more on liquor, cigar and cigar supplies sales to stay in the black.

Some smokers in Keedysville have been up in arms about the price hike, said Kathy Rogers, owner of Keedysville Country Store.

"The first three or four days, people were flipping out," she said.

She said many of her customers said they will shop around to find the lowest prices and travel to West Virginia or Virginia if necessary.

Smokers in Inwood, W.Va., are turning to rolling their own to beat the price increase, according Nancy Bishop, bookkeeper for the Smokin' Briar.

"It's mostly the ones who are looking to save some money. They're not going to kick the habit," she said.

Bishop said $43 worth of cigarette supplies, including tubes, tobacco and a rolling machine, can yield 1,000 cigarettes.

Smokin' Briar was selling name-brand cigarettes by the pack for $2.75 and generics for $2.45. Name-brand cartons were going for $25.

"I've hardly sold any since it all happened," she said.

Bishop, who smokes, said she is considering quitting. So is Natalie Smotts of Hagerstown.

"I've tried and tried. I'm addicted," she said.

Smotts, who said she smokes about a pack a day, said the increase in the cost of her brand, Marlboro, will make her cut back in other areas.

Heather Miller of Clear Spring said she plans to switch from name-brand cigarettes to a Sheetz convenience store brand to save money.

She said the hike might be a deterrent for other smokers, but not for her.

"It'll probably make them stop," she said.

Washington County Hospital employee Tammy Lida doesn't smoke but works with many people who do.

"I think it's good. It should be $10 a pack," she said.

Several of her co-workers, who did not want to be identified, said they were trying to quit.

"It's a good idea. Maybe it will help people stop," said one woman smoker.

Another disagreed.

"It's stupid. It's a habit. It won't make anybody stop," she said.

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