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Residents react as tobacco tax hits Iowa City

BY SHANE ERSLAND | APRIL 01, 2009 7:40 AM

Although UI freshman and smoker Bryn Lee Lovitt is already struggling to pay for her cigarettes, she said today’s tobacco tax increase won’t stop her from lighting up.

“My smoking habit has already trumped my frugality,” she said.

Starting today, a federal tax on cigarettes will increase from 39 cents to $1.01. Revenue generated from the cigarette tax will fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act, which President Obama signed in February. The excise tax is expected to generate roughly $31.3 billion over the next four years.

While she was initially upset by the news, 19-year-old Lee Lovitt said she felt better about the 62-cent increase when she discovered the money goes toward health insurance for children whose families can’t afford it. The act will provide insurance for an additional 4.1 million low-income children.

“It’s nice to know that the money I would be spending on cigarettes is going to a noble cause,” said Lee Lovitt, who smokes around eight cigarettes per day.

To some smokers, the bill seems untimely — several cigarette manufacturers raised their rates by 72 cents a pack earlier this month.

“They should really have spread [the increases] out, but I think Obama’s trying to make a statement,” said 20-year-old Stephanie Manning, who works at Tobacco Bowl, 111 S. Dubuque St.

In 2007, Iowa increased its cigarette tax by $1, to $1.36 per pack.

Max Kracht, an employee at Kum ’N’ Go, 25 W. Burlington St., said he has noticed more people switching to cheaper brands of cigarettes since the last price increase, but he hasn’t noticed people preparing for today’s hike.

“I would’ve expected more people stocking up than what I’ve seen,” the 20-year-old said.
Obama, an off-and-on smoker himself, said one of the bill’s goals is to cut down on adolescent smoking. Supporters of the act say young people are less likely to shell out extra cash to pay for their nicotine habits.

But some disagree.

City High junior Scott Turvin, 17, said he knows a lot of smokers his age who won’t be deterred by the expensive prices.

“They’ll find a way to get the money,” he said. “If kids want cigarettes, they’re going to get them.”

Customers typically complain after a price increase but continue with their habits, Manning said.
She noted Tobacco Bowl hasn’t seen a decrease in sales since the last price hike and isn’t expecting one after today.

“A lot of people are saying they’re going to quit, but I don’t think they will,” Manning said.


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