Smoke Sales Down

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Smoke Sales Down

SALT LAKE CITY -- The latest revenue statistics from the Utah Tax Commission found cigarette tax revenue is down 43 percent since July 1. Stores started charging an extra 18 cents a pack May 6.

"Raising the tobacco tax is one of the most effective tobacco control devices you can use," Heather Borski, a spokeswoman for the Utah State Health Department told The Salt Lake Tribune. "It motivates people to quit and keeps kids from starting."

Tobacco tax revenues in September plunged to $2.9 million, down 19 percent from 2001. In July and August, the state collected $7.7 million in tax revenues, down 10 percent from last year. But is it because many of Utah's 200,000 smokers have suddenly quit lighting up?

Jeanie's Smoke Shop owner Gary Klec figures a lot of Utah smokers have simply taken their business to Idaho or Wyoming. "Smoking hasn't decreased," Klec said. "People come in and they say, 'I can get them cheaper in Idaho.' Then they buy one pack to get them by on the drive."

In New York and New Jersey, where new taxes total $1.50 on each $6 or $7 pack, smokers are driving to upstate Indian reservations or rolling their own cigarettes to avoid the extra charge. Klec says things are no different in Utah, where taxes add up to 69 cents and a pack costs between $3 and $4.50. Cigarette sales are down 11 percent at his State Street store in Salt Lake City.

In 2002, Utah collected $44.4 million in tobacco taxes. In 2001, the state collected $47.6 million in tobacco taxes, down from $48 million the year before and $50 million in 1999. Much of the $13.8 million lawmakers expected to raise from the new tax is dedicated to education, cancer research and stop-smoking programs.