Pennsylvanians rush to stock up on cigarettes in the days before $1 tax goes into effect
Sometimes the line was 10 deep at the Choice Cigarette Discount Outlet in Bethel Park as smokers stocked up over the weekend in anticipation of today's cigarette tax hike.
By yesterday afternoon, the Brightwood Road store had run out of Virginia Slims, Kools and Dorals and the Winstons were going fast, said store clerk Eric Garland of Bethel Park.
"One person bought 30 cartons," Garland said. "At our [Route] 88 store, someone bought 250."
Store manager Rich Frutrick said that in the last three weeks sales have been up 30 percent to 35 percent, which represents an additional $7,000 to $8,000 a day.
"Today's insane," Frutrick said during a quick break between customers. "We usually do about $2,000 on a Sunday, and right now we're at $11,000 and we still have two hours to go. It hasn't stopped."
Across the region, some stores saw a rush in cigarette sales because a 69 cents-a-pack tax increase, bringing the total tax to $1 a pack, takes effect today.
State lawmakers approved the threefold increase as part of the $20.7 billion budget for 2002-03. Raising the cigarette tax from 31 cents to $1 per pack is expected to raise $600 million in revenues next year.
The tax does not affect other tobacco products such as chewing tobacco or cigars.
According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania's tax increase will keep 190,000 youngsters from smoking, prevent 90,000 early, smoking-related deaths and save about $3.3 billion in long-term health-care costs.
The advocacy group said 24.3 percent of adults and 27.6 percent of high school students in Pennsylvania smoke, compared with 23.3 percent and 28.5 percent nationally.
While the tax hike was politically unpalatable to some lawmakers, polls showed the majority of the voting public was in favor of an increase.
A few stores contacted yesterday reported no unusual spikes in cigarette sales, despite today's automatic price increase.
Others said customers were buying at least twice as much as usual and often by the carton, for which prices could jump anywhere from $5 to nearly $10 today depending on the brand.
"They're buying two or three cartons at a time," said Donna Basar of Springdale, who was busy yesterday passing out cigarettes and filling up their bins at the Fox Chapel Phar-Mor. "It's been like that for a couple of days."
At the Bethel Park discount outlet, where carton prices yesterday were $17.55 to $36.27, customers were buying five to 10 cartons before today's prices of about $25 to $47 a carton took effect, Garland said.
But after today, he and employees at other grocery, convenience and specialty stores expect business to calm down considerably for a while.