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Smokers Fume Over New Tax Hike

Wisconsin now has the fifth highest tobacco tax in the nation and the most expensive tobacco now among neighboring states.

Todd Ferch was purchasing a pouch of loose tobacco at Book World when he stopped to comment.

"It must be time to quit. Smoking is just too expensive. I roll my own," he said.

Local retailers said they are hearing from customers peeved about the hike.

"They’re going after all tobacco products. Cigarettes went up 75 cents a pack and roll your own prices will be raised by our wholesaler. The price for a 12 ounce can of Captain Jack pipe tobacco went up $10. It’s now around $45 a can. This is going to make it too expensive to smoke. Then where will the state get their money," said Book World manager Kathy Orlikowski. "I think they’re going to start taxing the air we breathe, so I’m going to breathe slow and not get excited. Do you know, are they still subsidizing tobacco growers?"

Dennis Annis at the House of Spirits said the price for a pack of Marlboros is now $6.72.

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"We saw a run on cigarettes before the tax went into effect," said Annis. "The biggest thing was many didn’t know about the increase. It’s gone up two bucks in the last year."

"We had a pretty good run before the tax went into effect," said BobbiSue Hampton at Monster Mart on Stevens Street.

She agreed with Annis regarding customers’ reactions.

"People weren’t happy. The cheapest brands are Grand Prix and Maverick at $5.95 a pack. And you do pay sales tax on top of everything. So a pack of cigarettes that sells for $5.64 is $5.95 with the sales tax.," Hampton said.

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Customers at Monster Mart were willing to speak their minds.

"I’m very angry," said Jan Jakuvowski. "Everything keeps going up except wages. They’re taking away my right to smoke, as an American. We’re cutting way back, way way back. Soon there’ll be more tax on booze, on each bad habit."

Novalee Jaeger kept her argument simple.

"It’s outrageous. Any higher and I’ll stop. And sales tax on top of the rise in cigarette tax? It’s a tax on tax."

"It’s hard on people that smoke," said Mark Pelletier. "I quit. I’ve gone years without now. My wife still smokes but something’s got to give."

Securing the tax was part of a one-two punch secured by anti-smoking advocates this year. The other was convincing the Legislature to pass a statewide anti-smoking ban that takes place on July 5, 2010. All money raised from cigarette and tobacco taxes goes into the state’s general fund, which is then tapped to pay the majority of expenses related to running state government.

Groups representing Wisconsin grocery and convenience stores, along with gas stations, estimate that the tax increase will cut 25 to 40 percent of their non-fuel sales. Ironically, many of the stores are replacing the revenue lost from tobacco sales with healthier alternatives like salads and fresh foods.

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