Smokers steaming over tax hike

Beattriz Garcia retrieves cigarettes for a customer at Lowe’s in Farwell on Tuesday. According to assistant manager Barbara Rennie, “There has been no drop-off in sales, but we’ve had a lot of complaints.” (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ Staff

Steve Burns is one of many eastern New Mexico residents who drove from Clovis to the Texas border to pay less for his cigarettes. The trip saved him more than $5 a carton, he said.

Those days are over. As of Monday, the cigarette tax in Texas jumped $1 per pack.
Burns, 48, said he understands the reasoning behind the increase but still doesn’t think it’s right.

“It is kind of like a sin tax where smoking is a bad habit and they’re trying to get you to quit smoking,” he said.

“I think they should leave smokers alone. That’s a big tax increase,” the veteran smoker of 25 years said. “I may try to quit here in a little bit because of the money,” he said.

The tax hike was signed into law in May to help offset cuts in local school property taxes. The increase — which will be added to the existing 41-cent-per-pack tax — is the first in Texas since 1991.

Texas was among the states with the lowest cigarette tax. But the $1.41 tax customers will now pay ranks Texas among the top third. New Jersey levies a nation-high $2.58 state tax per pack.

Supporters of the tax — from Texas Gov. Rick Perry to the American Cancer Society — think they have a good idea of what will happen: The state will bankroll hundreds of millions in revenue, and tens of thousands of pack-a-day smokers will decide that the extra $365 a year is the last incentive they need to finally kick the habit.

States surrounding Texas all have lower cigarette taxes. The New Mexico tax is 91 cents per pack, Arkansas is 59 cents and Oklahoma’s tax is $1.03.

The $1 hike only applies to cigarettes. Taxes on chewing tobacco will increase only about 5 percent, while cigars are unaffected.

The Cancer Society estimates that for every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes, the number of adult smokers drops 4 percent. That would mean more than 100,000 fewer smokers in Texas, where many communities have already passed no-smoking ordinances.

Tia Conly, a clerk at All-Star Convenience Store in Muleshoe, said the higher prices don’t seem to be curbing sales, and customers weren’t saying a whole lot about it as of Tuesday.

“They’re still buying them — that’s all that counts,” she said, cheerfully assisting customers.

At KC Express, a tobacco store in Clovis, clerk Ashley Riley said things seemed a little busier after the price change in Texas. Customers were communicating their frustrations to her.

“They don’t think it should have gone up. They’re coming to us ’cause they’re cheaper here now,” she told.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.