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Cigarette tax increase sends Md. smokers packing

December 31, 2007|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN - Many local smokers say they have an incentive to keep their New Year's resolution to quit the habit in 2008: They can't afford not to.

Maryland's cigarette tax is scheduled to double Tuesday from $1 to $2 per pack, an increase that will put some brands above the $6 mark.

For pack-a-day smokers like James Saul, 48, of Hagerstown, that's enough to break the bank.

"I'm gonna quit," said Saul, who said it's hard enough already to scrape together $4.50 for each pack of 100s now. "It's ridiculous."

The tax increase also was a factor for Jake Skidmore, 23, of Hagerstown, who plans to start taking the prescription stop-smoking drug Chantix on Wednesday.

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"It's one of many reasons," said Skidmore, who has smoked for about seven years and now spends close to $30 a week on cigarettes. "That, and because I'm tired of smoking. I want more free cash."

For others, quitting is an option that seems just as out of reach as the rising prices. For them, relief lies in the lower tax rates in nearby Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.

The tax increase was part of a bill aimed at bringing in more revenue for the state of Maryland, but some local smokers speculated that, in this area at least, it will lose more money through out-of-state purchases than it brings in.

Shannon Chapman, an employee at 7-Eleven on Dual Highway in Hagerstown, said she expects about half of local smokers to start going out of state. She said she plans to drive to Winchester, Va., where packs are at least $1.50 cheaper, and buying a case or two makes up for the extra money spent on gas.

Chapman said she's noticed over the past few weeks that customers who usually buy one pack have been buying two or three packs, or sometimes an entire case, to stock up.

After the new year, she said she expects business to drop off about 10 percent.

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