Fresno smokers fuming over $2-a-pack cigarette tax increase

Smokers fuming over new state cigarette tax, and not all will quit

Jocelyn Brownell of Fresno talks about $2-a-pack cigarette tax in California.
Up Next
Jocelyn Brownell of Fresno talks about $2-a-pack cigarette tax in California.

On April Fool’s Day, a new tobacco tax increase goes into effect in California – and it’s not a joke for smokers.

The $2-a-pack increase is making them fume.

“It’s social engineering,” said a smoker who would not give his name as he lit up a Winston outside the Mia Cuppa Caffé in Fresno’s Tower District on Friday morning.

California is trying to tell people what they can and cannot do for their own good, he said. “It’s the nanny state.”

A cheap pack of cigarettes, which sold for $3.79 on Friday, will cost $5.79 on Saturday. And the popular brands, such as Marlboro and Camel, will cost more than $8.

California expects the new tax to generate $1 billion to $1.4 billion, to be used primarily for health care for low-income California residents.

Health officials hope the increased cost of smoking will reduce the number of smokers. Research shows that for every 10 percent increase in the price, consumption goes down by approximately 3 to 5 percentage points.

I’m going to buy a couple of cartons to try and stave off the pain.

Jocelyn Brownell, Fresno smoker

Smokers said the new tax may drive some people to quit, some to switch to cheaper brands, some to shop at Native American reservation smoke shops or to buy cigarettes out-of-state. But really, most said, they’re just preparing for the cost-of-smoking increase.

“I’m going to buy a couple of cartons to try and stave off the pain,” Jocelyn Brownell, 29, said Friday. She smokes Camel Crush.

Brownell, about a pack-a-day-smoker, said halfheartedly she might smoke a little less, but “realistically, smokers are smokers. I don’t think the cigarette tax is going to do anything  well it might deter someone from starting.”

Sunny Badhan, owner of the AK Smoke Shop on Olive Avenue, said some of his customers told him they will be buying five to 10 cartons of cigarettes at a time from Native American smoke shops.

He expects to sell more loose-leaf tobacco, which is cheaper than cigarettes sold by the pack. And he believes vaping, which is the biggest part of his business, could become more popular as an alternative to cigarettes, even though taxes also will increase the price of e-cigarettes – battery-powered devices that deliver a nicotine-laden aerosol that is inhaled.

Badhan also is worried about an increase in crime. His store has bars across the windows. “Before, they took expensive stuff,” he said. “Now they may just grab cigarettes.”

Some diehard smokers said the tax was the last straw. They won’t be paying for cigarettes anymore.

“I got my prescription last week for Chantix,” said Todd Barosso, 45, who will need the prescription medicine to quit a two-pack-a-day habit. “I quit once for three years and it’s the hardest thing I ever did.”

He’s unhappy about the tobacco tax, even though he will save more than $120 a week on Marlboro Reds after he quits smoking. “I don’t even know who voted for this thing,” he said, “but it’s really a good incentive to stop subsidizing California’s  money grab.”

Another smoker, hearing Barosso’s reaction to the tobacco tax, said: “I’m buying gum.”

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter