A 2,400 percent federal tax hike on roll-your-own tobacco has many smokers fuming.
But workers at a local tobacco store say their customers are trying to beat the clock, not the habit.
On Thursday, workers at Custom Blends in York Township talked of customers -- that shop in the store as well as order supplies from the store online -- that are buying as much tobacco as possible before the tax kicks in April 1.
Customers who normally buy one or two pounds of tobacco at a time are now buying 20 to 30 pounds, said Diane Tucci, a worker in the store.
She said she's also received several calls from people that are angry about the tax increase.
"People are yelling at the top of their lungs," she said.
Smokers, including many that say it's healthier to smoke roll-your-own than commercial pre-made and Fire-Safe cigarettes, said the tax is unfair, said Heather Wantland, manager of Custom Blends.
"I'll personally try to buy at least twelve bags when I'd normally buy two or three," Wantland said.
"We're getting customers coming in and buying pounds and pounds of tobacco," said Diane Tucci's brother-in-law Mark Tucci, owner of Custom Blends in York Township.
"It's just going to be more expensive to use tobacco . . . But (roll-your-own) will still be half the price of buying a carton of premade cigarettes," Tucci said. "We're a lot greener. We don't have the trash, waste, and the manufacturing is done by the customer."
In addition to the federal tax increase, Gov. Ed Rendell has also discussed raising state taxes on tobacco products.
And that's not not good either, Mark Tucci said, and added that the government by creating high taxes on tobacco should be prepared to police illegal sales of cigarettes.
Deborah Brown, vice president of community outreach and advocacy for the American Lung Association in Pennsylvania, disagrees.
She said neighboring states have higher state taxes than Pennsylvania and they've managed to control illegal activity.
Brown also said Rendell's proposed 10-cent tax increase on cigarettes is too low.
"We want a 60-cent tax increase," she said of a per pack tax that would encourage people to stop smoking. "Each measure that we put in place . . . the more people are going to consider their behavior . . . The public health benefit is great."
By the numbers
According to the Alcohol And Tobacco Tax And Trade Bureau, U.S. Dept. of the Treasury Web site, the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 increases the federal excise tax on all tobacco products, cigarette papers and cigarette tubes, effective April 1, 2009.
Perhaps hardest hit by the change is roll-your-own tobacco which will see taxes jump from about $1.10 to $24.78 per pound.
Other federal changes include:
--- Taxes on small (class A) cigarettes will increase from $3.90 to $10.066 a carton.
--- Taxes on small cigars (weighing 3 lbs. or less per 1,000) will increase from $1.828 to $50.33 per 1,000.
Here's what smokers said about the federal tax increase:
--- "It just seems we're constantly being attacked (by) money hungry grubbing pigs."
- James Avery of Lower Windsor Township. He estimates he's saved around $5,000 over the last five years by rolling his own cigarettes.
--- "We smokers are being singled out unfairly. I think that the state and federal taxes should have increased on the sale of beer, wine and liquor."
- Patti Sell, Shippensburg, a Custom Blends (in York Township) customer.
--- "I buy at Custom Blends . . . the choice up here in Canada is very limited when it comes to (roll-your-own)."
- Tudor Pietreanu, Toronto. He also said the U.S. government is hypocritical for saying it wants to reduce smoking, "while at the same time they base funding of a very important health program on this tax."
--- "(Customers) think it's ridiculous ... but they're still smoking."
- Tes Hibner, a sales clerk at Smoker's Outlet in Spring Garden Township.
--- "The roll-your-own (tax) is going to hurt the poor people and benefit the big companies . . . We're losing our rights in this country little by little."
- Jesus Castanon, owner of Hain's Pipe & Cigar Shop in York.
--- "This is an outrage, a $24 sales tax on tobacco . . . (Obama) said he wasn't going to raise taxes on the middle class, well I've got news for him. The middle and lower class are the ones using tobacco."
- Andrew Stewart, Carrollton Texas, who buys tobacco online from Custom Blends.