Smokers wary of new tax

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 16, 2009

NATCHEZ — The complaints at the Tobacco Station Friday weren’t bad — they were awful.

“We had one guy drive off,” owner Betty Smith said. “He didn’t even say anything.”

But Smith and other tobacco retailers said most customers weren’t surprised by the additional 50-cent tax on cigarettes that went into effect Friday; they’d read it in the news already.

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B&L Tobacco Outlet owner Delores Jackson said complaints at her store started days ago.

“They expected it, but they’ve been complaining since before today,” she said.

The cheapest pack of cigarettes at most local stores is now approximately $3.84 including state and federal taxes, but not sales tax. The most expensive pack is approximately $6.50.

“If you look at the income people make here in Natchez and look at what cigarettes cost, I don’t know how people do it,” Smith said.

Jackson said she expected to see some customers switch to a cheaper brand of cigarettes, but didn’t expect to lose much business.

Carla Felter, manager at the Chevron station on Homochitto Street, agreed.

“They are complaining,” she said. “But they don’t stop buying. Last time they went up (on the tax) they kept on buying.”

But customers at several stores around town said differently this time.

“I’ve smoked a long time,” Charles Robinson said. “But I’m quitting.”

But the retailers aren’t too worried.

“Once they get over the shock, they’ll come back,” Tobacco Station clerk Kristi Middleton said.

The 50-cent increase brings the Mississippi cigarette tax to 68 cents a pack. It had been 18 cents a pack since 1985.

The state increase is on top of a federal cigarette tax increase of 62 cents a pack just six weeks ago.