NEWS

Stores feeling effect of cigarette tax hike

Rob Montana

While state officials say a $1.50 tax increase for a pack of cigarettes has helped curb smoking, store owners say people are still buying, just not at their stores.

Michael Hubric, owner of Michael John’s Mini Mart on Seneca Road in Hornell, said he hasn’t heard a single one of his cigarette-buying customers is quitting because of the tax increase, which brought the total tax on a pack of cigarettes to $2.75. He said they’re just not shopping at his store anymore.

“They are going to the Indian reservations,” he said. “They’re buying for friends and family members, getting 10 to 15 cartons and coming back with them, which is highly illegal.

“If smokers are going to quit, they have to want to quit,” Hubric said. “If they don’t, they’re just going to find cheaper places to get them.”

Hubric said he has sold 149 fewer packs than last year at this time, just for the period since the tax increase has been in effect.

“It’s a huge impact,” he said of the decline in sales. “It makes up about 20 percent of my business, so I have taken quite a hit.”

Despite the financial impact the increase has had on his store, Hubric doesn’t have any problems with the hike. His issue is with the state not enforcing regulations for buying cigarettes at Indian reservations, where state taxes do not apply.

“I’m fine with it if they would enforce the law of two cartons per visit,” he said, “but no one’s doing anything about it. They seem to be looking the other way.

“The Indians are just getting richer,” Hubric said.

Barbara Rose, owner and manager of Stop and Shop on Loder Street in Hornell, said her store has not noticed a significant decline in cigarette sales.

“We’re still very busy in that way,” she said. “I’ve asked my salesmen, too, and they’re all saying the same thing.”

As for people quitting, Rose said that’s the plan for some of her customers, but in the future.

“They’re saying they’re going to have to,” she said, “but they haven’t yet.”

Angie Ray, manager of Convenient Food Mart, said she hasn’t seen a drop off either.

“No, people are still buying,” she said.

Her customers, mostly, aren’t quitting the habit.

“Some have said they are, but not very many,” Ray said.