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The Super America at Woodland Avenue and St. Marie Street in Duluth advertised the pending increase in the Minnesota state tax on cigarettes Thursday. Steve Kuchera | Forum News Service

Minnesota’s cigarette tax set to increase Monday

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By John Lundy

Forum News Service

DULUTH — Jody Meyers plans to quit smoking on Monday.

She’s not entirely thrilled about the idea.

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"They’re trying to raise taxes on everything, and it just seems like they’re taking it out on the poor people," the Duluth woman said Thursday as she smoked a cigarette while waiting for a bus on Superior Street.

"Because the cigarettes are going up, now I have to quit smoking."

Meyers, 39, was referring to the $1.60-per-pack increase on the cigarette tax that takes effect Monday in Minnesota. The increase, approved by the state Legislature this year, will bring the total tax to $2.83 per pack (20 cigarettes), sixth highest in the nation.

Her decision to quit is exactly what health advocates want.

"We know the impact from other states (that have increased cigarette taxes)," said Pat McKone, director of mission programs for the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest. "People who smoke will take the opportunity to quit. We know for sure that it will reduce the amount of youths who start smoking."

The increase is expected to bring a little more than $400 million additional revenue to the state general fund in the fiscal year that begins Monday, according to Minnesota Department of Revenue estimates. That takes into account an expected 64 million reduction in the number of packs sold, to 160 million. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Cancer Society estimate the pricier cigarettes will prevent 47,000 kids from starting to smoke and help 36,600 current smokers quit.

Tobacco retailers and their customers are bracing for the impact.

Outside the Super America convenience store at St. Marie Street and Woodland Avenue, a sign that slightly overstates the tax increase urges customers to "buy today."

Mike Kasapidis, manager of Cigs for Less in West Duluth, said he isn’t advertising, but many of his customers are well aware of the tax hike.

"Oh, yeah," Kasapidis said. "A lot of people are stocking up."

Kasapidis said he stands to lose business from Wisconsin, where the tax of $2.52 per pack has made it worthwhile for smokers to cross the bridge for cheaper cigarettes. He estimated 50 percent of the customers in his Grand Avenue store come from Wisconsin.

Mike Waz, manager of the Smoke Shop on West Central Entrance, said about 30 percent of his customers are from Wisconsin.

"That’s going to be a huge loss for us, truthfully," Waz said. "We’re going to try to adjust."

Kasapidis said that with added fees, the actual increase will be close to $1.90 per pack. The price for a middle-of-the road carton (10 packs) of cigarettes now is $50, he said. That will go up to $69.

Waz and Kasapidis said some of their customers have been stocking up on cigarettes. But Jan Jacobson, 70, said she hasn’t done that because if she had extra cigarettes, she would smoke them.

The West Duluth woman, who said she smokes a little less than a pack a day, doesn’t plan to change her smoking habits. But she’s angry about the tax increase.

"I think it’s way too much," Jacobson said. "That’s a very big jump in the price. … Why do you have to pick on the smokers?"

Blaine Cox, 36, who was waiting for a bus across the street from Meyer, was only vaguely aware of the coming tax hike. When told the amount, Cox said, "That’s kind of unreasonable."

Cox, who smokes about a pack a day, said he probably wouldn’t change his habits, either. "I’m definitely buying the ones on sale," Cox said.

Jacobson said she also was angry that cigarette tax revenue would go toward the new Vikings stadium.

She was referring to a one-time floor-stock tax on stock the retailers have in their stores when the increase goes into effect. That’s expected to generate $30.5 million, but no more than $26.5 million would go toward the stadium, said Ryan Brown, a Minnesota Department of Revenue spokesman. Everything else will go into the general fund.

The floor-stock tax was earmarked for the stadium because of the "slow growth" of electronic pulltab games intended to provide some of the state’s share, Brown said.

Meyers, who said she smokes at least a pack a day, said she hates the tax.

"(Smoking) is the one stress reliever that I have in my life because I don’t drink," she said. "I figure if they want to go after something, go after the people who drink."

On reflection, though, she said it might turn out to be a good thing.

"I’ve been wanting to quit for years but I haven’t been able to, and it’s like I’m going to be quitting cold turkey now," Meyers said. "And it’s going to be really hard, but I’m going to give it a shot."

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