$5 cigs in VA? Smokers gasp at increase
Already reeling from Governor Tim Kaine's signature on a law that bans puffing in their favorite watering holes, Virginia cigarette users got hit with another shocker this week: The price of a pack of Marlboros, the flagship smoke of homegrown tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris, leaped 71 cents a pack March 9, pushing prices over $5 in most stores.
At Bellair Market, cigarettes that had been less than $4 last week rang up at $5.03 this week. At Lucky Seven, those Marlboro Lights cost $5.79 a pack, and at the Shell on Preston Avenue, the price was $5.83 a pack.
"At $4.09, I am the cheapest around," says Frazier Breeden at Tobacco Express on Rio Road, whose customer reactions are "a lot of fussing and complaining."
The basis for the increase is a 62-cent federal excise tax that goes into effect April 1. "Everybody knew the price was going up April 1," says Breeden. "When Marlboro called me Thursday morning [March 5], they said they were going up Monday [March 9]."
"They're fussing and carrying on big time," says Bill Simmons, who owns the 7-11 on Barracks Road, where cigarettes went up between 65 and 90 cents a pack. Marlboros there are $5.46, and that includes the city of Charlottesville's 35-cent-a-pack tax. .
"They shake their head and say they're going to quit," says Simmons. "Then it settles in in about two weeks."
"We expect the federal excise tax increase will result in excess cost for Philip Morris and accelerate the cigarette volume decline," says Altria spokesman Greg Mathe, about the early increase that tacks on an extra nine cents per pack over the 62-cent tax.
For nonsmokers like Julius Neelley, a member of the Fluvanna Democratic Committee, it was a good week. He wants to write Kaine a thank-you note for banning smoking in restaurants and bars.
"Theoretically," Neelley says, "people will start smoking less, and that's better for everyone's health."
Neelly thinks ultimately tobacco should be banned. "Tobacco kills us," he says. "Why should we allow it to be grown?"
Not all smokers are fuming. Some are resigned– or think the price increase is a great idea. Lea Austin says it won't bother her. "I mostly just bummed them from other people," she jokes. She thinks the higher cost will affect younger people more, and that's a good thing.
Her friend, Laura Dillon, agrees. "Maybe it will help younger people not start," she suggests. "Maybe it will help me quit."
Bill Huppert also considers the possibility of quitting. "I've been struggling with it for awhile," he says. "I swore I'd quit when they got over $1 a pack."
As for $5 a pack cigarettes in the cradle of Big Tobacco, says Huppert, "I never thought I'd see it in my lifetime."