Some smokers quit, others drive

Published 11:45 am Thursday, July 25, 2013

An increase in cigarette taxes has prompted many people to travel to Iowa or else give up smoking

The cigarette tax increase implemented earlier this month has had mixed effects on area smokers.

While stop-smoking programs have reported increased numbers of smokers looking to quit, some smokers appear to have simply avoided the tax by purchasing their cigarettes in other states.

ClearWay Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that aims to reduce tobacco use, stated in a news release that its QuitPlan Services cessation program has seen a four-fold increase in the traffic to its helpline, when compared to the same time period in 2012.

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Nearly 2,500 Minnesotans visited their website in the first week of the new tax, and QuitPlan Services fielded nearly 400 additional calls on its hotline.

“Research from Minnesota and other states clearly shows that tobacco price increases are effective at helping smokers quit,” said David Willoughby, chief executive officer of ClearWay Minnesota.

According to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, the price of tobacco is the largest contributing factor to reducing smoking prevalence.

The price increase is also projected to save Minnesotans more than $1.65 million in long-term health care costs and prevent more than 25,700 premature smoking-related deaths, according to a news release.

Minnesota’s new tax of $1.60 per pack pushed the average price in Minnesota to approximately $7.50 per pack.

While some have used the tax increase as a way to motivate them to quit, others are crossing the border into Iowa to do so.

At Fallgatter’s Market in Northwood, cigarette sales have gone up between $600 and $900 each week since the new tax went into effect, said Sarah Schumaker, office assistant.

“I’ve been having people come down and buy a carton or two,” said Johnna Emond, lead daytime cashier at the store.

Emond said she has gone from ordering 40 to 45 cartons twice a week for the store to ordering 60 to 65 cartons twice a week — which equals out to an average of about 40 extra cartons of cigarettes each week.

Jackie Villela, cashier at Don’s Motor Mart in Lake Mills, said she has also seen a slight increase in cigarette sales since the beginning of the month — but estimated it was only an increase of five or six cartons a week.

She said she has noticed customers from Minnesota who work in Lake Mills who have made an extra effort to buy their cigarettes while still in Iowa.

“We expect quite a bit more business in the next month or so,” Villela said.