New cigarette tax goes into effect today

Published 8:12 am Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Fifty cents might not sound like all that much to the average person, but when it comes to additional taxes on tobacco products for retailers, 50 cents means closing shop for at least one local business.

After 23 years at the same location near Tractor Supply Co. on Cumberland Street, Smokey’s Discount Tobacco shuttered its doors for good.

The closure is in direct response to the new tobacco tax that went into effect today. Taxes on tobacco products increased by 50 cents to 86 cents per pack. Rep Harold Ritchie, D-Pine, authored HB 119 that raised taxes on tobacco throughout the state. His original bill sought to triple the 36-cent tax to $1.08 per pack, but the state’s House of Representatives rejected that increase and settled on a more modest increase of 32 cents per pack, which would have made Louisiana’s tax rate the same as that of Mississippi. Ultimately, a compromise was met and passed at the 50-cent rate.

Before the new tax, Louisiana had one of the lowest per-pack taxes in the nation. The new rate moves it up to 35th.

Smokey’s owners Carl and Theresa Frichter were not happy during Tuesday’s last day at the business. Both are former smokers.

“You can go across the bridge to Mississippi and buy cigarettes a lot cheaper than here,” Carl Frichter said. “Washington Parish and Louisiana will do anything for a tax. Anything I still have in stock, I’ve got to still pay taxes on it.”

Frichter said the new taxes would cost him approximately $5,000 per month.

“It’s just getting harder and harder to do business in this area,” Theresa Frichter said before frustration forced her to bite her tongue. “We’re directing everybody to Mississippi.”

The Frichters have a number of tobacco stores in Mississippi. They have two stores in Columbia and one each in Tylertown, Petal and McComb and several on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“For many years we enjoyed this place,” Carl Frichter said. “The tobacco store is going by the wayside, and nobody will be able to make a living selling only tobacco.”

Smokey’s regular Nancy Rester was unaware of the establishment’s closing when she came in to buy a carton of Menthol Pall Malls.

“I think it’s terrible,” Rester said of the closing. “What I’ve got to say about the tax you couldn’t print.”

Carl Frichter said citizens should have a clear choice whether to use tobacco. He said he smoked for 45 years, and his wife indulged for 42 years.

“I think it ought to be a personal choice. They haven’t taxed beer for 50 years. We’re not advocating smoking. It’s a choice. We were offering at the lowest price,” he said.

On the other hand, Junior Food Mart Manager Caroline Morley said she didn’t think her business at 303 Superior Ave. will be affected by the new taxes.

“I don’t think it’s going to hurt us a lot because we’re at the state minimum right now,” Morley said.

The Frichters said they will miss their customers.

“A lot of our customers have been with us forever,” Carl Frichter said. “They’re so used to coming in here. We will miss them.”

Bogalusa ADAPT Inc. Executive Director Charlotte Fornea said she hopes one of the outcomes of the new tobacco tax is to have more people quit using tobacco products.

“It is a proven fact that as the price of tobacco increases, the number of new smokers decrease.” Fornea said. “We’re hoping this will discourage youth from becoming tobacco users.”

Fornea said it was as if the large tobacco companies had put a collective target on the backs of the youth.

“The tobacco industry targeted our youth as replacement smokers for those tobacco users who have quit or died,” Fornea said. “Our young people are beginning to see they are not replacements. They are cheerleaders, football players, hunters, brothers, leaders and other individuals rather than statistics for the big tobacco industry.”

Fornea said for individuals who want to stop using tobacco, Our Lady of the Angels Hospital has a free smoking cessation program. She said a telephone line to help individuals quit tobacco is found at 1-800-QUIT-NOW, or 1-800-784-8669.

“I understand it is difficult to quit tobacco,” Fornea said, “The tobacco industry is counting on that. In the long run, people can save their money in expenses and have improved quality of life.”