The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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July 25, 2013

Tax hike hasn't dissuaded smokers

MANKATO — Officially, it's been 25 days since Minnesota smokers began facing the new reality — a $1.60 jump in the per pack tax on cigarettes.

The July 1 increase brings the total state tax to $2.83, enough to make Minnesota sixth highest in the nation and enough to push the price for most name brand smokes past $7 a pack. So far, though, most smokers aren't paying that price, said Jeff Enggren, owner of North Mankato's Lor Ray Deli Mart.

Enggren pulled down some Marlboros that had a prominent "$1 off" on the packaging and a pack of Camels with a bit smaller discount. Coupons seem to be arriving more regularly in the hands of smokers, too, so tobacco companies or wholesalers may be systematically attempting to lessen the shock factor of the growing cost of continuing the smoking habit.

"We've been getting a lot of sales," Enggren said. "The coupon marketing has been pretty heavy, too, especially in Minnesota."

One non-profit organization that provides free stop-smoking programs — ClearWay Minnesota — reported this week a fourfold jump in visits to its website and a more than doubling in calls to its helpline compared to July of 2012.

Mark Erickson, a pharmacist at the downtown Hy Vee store, said he wishes he could report a big jump in sales of nicotine gum, nicotine patches and other smoking cessation products since the tax hike arrived.

"I'd love it to be the case, just for the health of Americans," said Erickson.

But so far, not so.

"I don't think sales have changed much at all," Erickson said. "You'd anticipate a jump, but I haven't seen it yet."

As the discounts and sales on cigarettes fade away in coming weeks and months, that might change. Erickson wonders, though, if cost alone will deter many smokers.

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