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Smokers Stock Up

STRATFORD, Conn. -- Store owners had a hard time keeping up with demand as smokers stocked up on cigarettes before higher taxes kick in this week.

Ray Martin Jr. of Martin's Cigarette Outlet in Stratford said he sold 11,000 cartons of cigarettes in six days. "We're selling as many in a day as we usually do in a week," he told the Associated Press. "It's unbelievable."

Signed into law Feb. 28, the new state tax on a pack of cigarettes will rise from 50 cents to $1.11, the third highest in the nation.

The first significant tax increase in Connecticut in seven years is intended to help close a two-year budget gap estimated at $1 billion. The tax is expected to generate an estimated $40 million in the current budget year and about $130 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The run on cigarettes forced retailers to pay the tax in advance to purchase stickers affixed to each pack of cigarettes.

"The stamp is smaller than the head of an eraser, and I have to put one on each pack of cigarettes," said Dean Valentino, operator of Danbury Fair Exxon in Danbury. "In theory, I can run my inventory down, but the problem is the shoppers are pretty smart. They'll stock up."

Smokers should expect sticker shock. A pack of name-brand, non-discounted cigarettes will sell for as much as $4.75 and the price of a carton will be between $44 and $47. High-volume cigarette dealers could sell some brands for about $38 a carton, the report said.

A spokesman for Philip Morris Cos. Inc. said the tax will be a burden to moderate and low-income residents. "This an extraordinarily high tax," spokesman Tom Ryan said. "Smokers are being singled out for programs that benefit everyone. We don't think it's fair."
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