- Associated Press - Friday, October 2, 2015

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - The 25 cent-a-pack state tax increase on cigarettes that went into effect Thursday hasn’t driven any new customers to the Vape Kloudz electronic cigarette store yet, but co-owner Alexis Knowlton expects it will.

“We hope people will quit smoking and turn to our alternative,” Knowlton said from her store Thursday. “The reality is it’s cheaper and less detrimental to your health.”

Karen Garner, manager of Discount Tobacco Outlet, predicted a few smokers will begin rolling their own cigarettes and some will switch to the electronic cigarette with the state tax increase from 42.5 cents to 67.5 cents per pack of cigarettes.

A handful of people, Garner said, will say they will quit smoking because of the increase.

“But they’ve told me that before,” she said.

Susan Schmelter, who had bought a carton of cigarettes Thursday at Discount Tobacco, called the cigarette tax increase “outlandish.”

“Why raise it?” she asked. “If everybody stops smoking, where are they going to go then?”

Schmelter said she doubts she will quit smoking despite advice that she should give up the habit.

“I have to because the doctor told me to,” she said.

The recently adopted $1.75 billion 2016 state General Fund budget includes about $166 million in revenue-generating measures, including the cigarette tax increase that is expected to raise about $70 million a year.

Studies have shown that increasing cigarette taxes reduces the number of smokers and deters youths from starting to smoke. The benefit of fewer smokers, studies have found, is a savings in health care costs.

Studies also have shown that cigarette tax increases hit low-income smokers the hardest.

“Taxes keep going up and up, the poor keep getting poorer and the rich keep getting richer,” Addie Foster, of Decatur, said after buying two packs of L&M; cigarettes at Fuel Zone on Sixth Avenue Southeast.

Foster paid $4.25 Thursday for each pack of L&M;’s. Those same cigarettes cost her $3.98 a pack on Wednesday.

Foster, 54, said she needs to quit her pack-a-day habit of 30 years.

“It’s not so much the tax is going to make me quit, but it’s going to be a consideration as a health matter,” she said.

Schmelter said she knew the state was increasing the cigarette tax but forgot that it was going into effect. She paid $41.19 for a carton of cigarettes Thursday that would have cost less the day before.

Garner said a few customers stocked up with four or five cartons before the tax went into effect.

“We’ve been telling them for the last week and a half or so,” she said.

The $2.50 added cost for a carton of cigarettes from the tax hike also produces an additional 23 cents in sales tax in Decatur.

Brandy Kinney, a clerk at Discount Tobacco, began rolling her cigarettes about four years ago.

“I couldn’t afford the regular ones, and that was before they went up to what they are now,” she said.

Discount Tobacco sells a cigarette rolling machine for $42.95 and sells cigarette tubes and bagged tobacco. Kinney said a carton of cigarettes that she rolls costs her about $10.

An electronic cigarette starter kit at Vape Kloudz costs about $45, Knowlton said. The e-cigarette’s liquid solution will cost about $25 a month, she said.

Knowlton, 48, smoked for about 30 years before quitting more than two years ago.

“I feel a lot better,” she said. “I can see where I’ve definitely saved money.”

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Information from: The Decatur Daily, https://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml

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