MOUNT VERNON — On April 1, federal taxes on most tobacco products increased, the biggest increase ever for any tobacco product.
The increased revenue will pay for expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which offers coverage to children without health insurance. Tax on a pack of cigarettes jumped from 39 cents to $1.01 a pack.
For those who have been rolling their own cigarettes to save money, the tax on a pound of loose cigarette tobacco jumped nearly $30. Taxes on rolling papers, cigars and other products are also increased. Although the tax just went into effect, it is seen as ultimately having a big impact on tobacco sales.
“It’s a little too early to tell if it’s had an effect on sales,” said K.T. Colvin, store manager for Neff’s Cardinal Market in Mount Vernon. “But obviously, I think it will.”
Colvin is not a big fan of the tax.
“It’s horrible,” he said. “I think it’s terrible. It’s driving one industry out of business at the cost of a few people.”
In addition to cigarettes, Neff’s sells pipe tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco; all of those have been affected by the tax.
“Pipe tobacco went up $23 a pound,” Colvin said. “The increase on cigarette tobacco is by the pound. I’m not sure exactly how much that is, but it’s similar to the pipe tobacco.”
There is more than one good side effect to the increase: It has given many smokers the incentive they need to quit. Quitting smoking has been likened to getting off drugs. Many consider it to be harder than kicking heroin. But help is out there. The Knox County Health Department conducts an eight-week smoking cessation program, “Put It Out For Good.”
“We have seen a dramatic increase in people interested in our program,” said Mike Whitaker, tobacco prevention manager for the health department. “There are other reasons why people want to quit, but I think because of the increase in the cigarette tax more people are attending the class.”
Whitaker said the program is successful when people are committed to quitting smoking. The course is free, as are the support services and nicotine patches.
“We have two classes,” Whitaker said. “We have a Monday class that runs from noon to 1:30 at the Alcohol and Drug Freedom Center. And on Thursday nights we have a class here at the health department. Both of those classes are ongoing and we meet every Monday and Thursday.”
The Thursday classes run from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Participants can join either class at any time.
Whitaker said the increase in class attendance is quite dramatic.
“In the Monday class, last week there were nine people attending,” he said. “This week there were 16. I think the Thursday class is going to get even bigger. Last night there were 27 in the class and 12 of them were new.”
Whitaker also keeps track of the calls he receives about the program. These inquiries about the program have jumped dramatically.
“Within the last two months, I’ve had 80 calls from people asking about the program and wanting to sign up,” he said. “A normal month is about 10 to 12 calls.”
Whitaker describes the program as an intensive program, but by no means a magic bullet.
“But it does work,” he added. “It is very effective for those who follow through with it.”