$5 cigs in VA? Smokers gasp at increase

The latest increase in prices could push Bill Huppert to stub out the habit.
PHOTO BY LISA PROVENCE

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 areĀ  "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."

14 comments

A person buying a carton each week will now be spending at least $160.00 a month, or $1,920.00 a year. I think that's a habit I would have to give up real quick.

Going one step further, if the governement decided to increase the taxes on cheeseburgers, Pepsi, and ice cream sandwiches.... I could probably lose the 30 pounds I need to lose real quick. :)

hemp should be legalized and replace tobacco. imagine the revenue generated and healthier society without liver damage from booze and cancer from cigs...plus we can all be happy and pain free! :)

Agreed Dustin,would also alleviate the drug violence in Mexico. Was shocked to learn from Tucson natives that the most prevalent drug being smuggled into the US is marijuana.

I would love to hear PM or RJR announce that they will not be selling cigs in the US. If you wanted to see grown men and women cry all you would have to do is look in your local and federal legislative office buildings. If you wanted to see grown men and women whine and cry all you would have to do is look at any non smoking taxpayer. Oh and by the way....I do not smoke but I do understand politics.

For once, I'd like to see alcohol prices raised and taxed like cigarettes constantly are.

This is just one more instance of the government telling citizens how they can and can't live. Tobacco isn't good for you, but using it is a personal choice that people have a right to make; restaurants have a right to allow or ban it individually; and businesses have a right to grow it provided they can do it profitably. I'm not trying to save myself a fortune here - I don't smoke often, I just enjoy a cigar every now and again - but I really can't stand the government stepping into peoples' lives and making choices for them. We don't live in a free republic so that we can be told what to do. The Democrats have been confused about this for a long time and in the last ten years the Republicans have jumped right on board with them. Let people live their lives as they choose - let them accept the risks, let them pay the penalties.

One further note: paying for children's health care with tobacco tariff increases that are aimed at taxing cigarettes out of existence is unsustainable. If people stop smoking (as planned), then the source of revenue dries up and the government still needs to provide a promised service. Non-smokers may like this now, but when their income taxes increase in order to compensate down the road, they may regret it.

Thanks Mike, Well I guess California may be desperate enough to finally do the right thing .

If people would stop smoking here in Virginny I would gladly triple or quadruple my taxes. Seriously. Property taxes. Sales taxes. State taxes. Federal taxes. Any tax. Without even thinking about it.

Smokers are prosimians at best.

You might get your wish, Outskirts Guy. No sane person is going to pay $4.50 to $5.00 a pack. It's not going to provide the revenue the state has anticipated. So next year about his time they will have to pick out something else to tax. It wouldn't hurt my feelings to see beer, wine and liquor double in price.

Or perhaps gas and diesel fuel, add $1.00 more per gallon in state taxes, that sure would have brought in a lot more revenue. Virginia is so stupid when it comes to taxation.

In the middle of the biggest economic disaster we've ever been through, the holier than thou have determined that they are going to apply an abusive tax on something that they don't agree with. The Schip legistation was a good bill, but the funding for it is abusive. Taxes, when they have to be applied should be rendered fairly across the entire taxpayer system, not targeted to a particular group in an attempt to change behavior.
Now, on top of that, you have the major manufacturers implementing the price hike early to skim as much money as possible. Inexcusable.

No cigaretes, no alcohol, no dogs. Fundamentalism. Burkas for the women.

It's free on youtube.com, and you just might learn something.

Whilst I abhor weed use and bogart 'moking, the last thing I want is you knuckleheads obsessing on taxing this, increasing revenue that, etc. Have we considered tightening government's belt a bit? Why do you folks not grasp a basic economical precept: there is price elasticity to just about every item. Increase the price of ciggies and liquor, and demand will drop; thus revenues will drop. Let's try to cut the cost of government; not have them confiscate our money all the time. Harrison was right (re: Taxman).

Who--in their right mind--thinks a tax on tobacco (or anything else) that purports to use "revenue to fund kids' healthcare" will end up actually being used for that purpose.

They should tax haircuts excessively and see how that chap in Albemarle County politics with the Roy Orbison hairdo likes it!