Local retailers expect increase to cause variety of side effects

The price of a carton now includes $12.50 in tax.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A cigarette tax that went into effect Friday left local smokers and cigarette retailers feeling burned.
Throughout the state, retailers spent Friday adjusting their prices to match the new state tax, which adds 70 cents onto the price of each pack of cigarettes. Now the price of each pack includes a total $1.25 tax, or $12.50 in tax per carton.
"Oh my God." That's all 74-year-old Sue O'Brien of Youngstown could say when the cashier told her the total price for two packs of cigarettes, $1.40 above what she used to pay.
Smokers in Youngstown and across the state had many reactions to the significant tax increase.
Some yelled and cursed; some sighed, and others handed over the extra money without much commentary, but many smokers were thinking the same things.
"They're just taking advantage of us," O'Brien said, reflecting the views of many who think the government should have passed a tax that affected all citizens.
State Rep. Kenneth Carano of Austintown, D-59th, who voted against the budget, said he feels the tax unfairly targets smokers.
"I think it's absolutely ridiculous that those people are going to be asked to help pay for a deficit that they didn't create," he said.
O'Brien said she was concerned especially with how the tax would affect people with lower income.
"Where are they going to gain?" she said, gesturing down Belmont Avenue toward Youngstown. "It's the poor people who are going to lose."
Kicking the habit
Others are choosing to view the tax as a potential benefit because it might aid in the effort to stop smoking.
John Kechler, a 30-year-old Youngstown resident who has smoked since he was 10, said he is considering quitting because his income won't allow for the higher cost.
Kechler said he spends about $300 per month on cigarettes, but at the new price, he wouldn't be able to afford the habit.
District manager Tracy Flara of Smoker Friendly and Cigarette Express, which has four local stores in Ohio and nine others in Pennsylvania, said smokers likely would quit or begin to roll their own cigarettes.
"I think a lot of people are going to say 'Wow, I can't afford this,'" she said, though business at her stores had been steady despite higher prices.
She said her stores, like many local retailers, would increase their selections of loose tobacco and tubes to meet an increased demand for products used by people who roll their own cigarettes.
Retailer Gene Bellatto, who owns the Plaza Book and Smoke shops in the Austintown and Boardman plazas and the Havana House at 5801 Youngstown-Warren Road in Niles, said his business would have to make similar adjustments to offset the 30 percent decrease in business he predicts for the next few months.
Feeling the effects
And although they might bounce back eventually, sales will never be the same, he said.
The tax will have several other negative effects as well, said David Newman, owner of Cigarette World at 110 Boardman-Poland Road.
Although Michigan and Pennsylvania have higher taxes, the state will lose revenue as some Ohioans travel to West Virginia and Kentucky to buy cigarettes with very small taxes, he said.
Newman said he believes crime will increase because individuals with lower incomes will steal or look to the black market to obtain cigarettes.
Carano said he was disappointed that legislators did not fully consider these types of effects when negotiating the budget.
"The mindset in dealing with the budget had nothing to do with the ramifications of the budget or the opinions of the state of Ohio," he said. "It had to do with one thing, and that was that the law says we have to have a balanced budget."
And like many unhappy smokers feeling the immediate results of the budget, O'Brien said she would like to send a message to legislators: "Get your nose out of our business."

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