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February 16, 2013

Smoke signals

Tobacco tax hike plan has some lawmakers fuming

Smoke poured out of some Republican lawmakers’ ears when they heard Gov. Maggie Hassan’s proposal to raise New Hampshire’s cigarette tax by 30 cents.

Lawmakers who oppose the move fear it would keep Massachusetts’ smokers on their own side of the border, a concern shared by many Southern New Hampshire store owners.

While a 30-cent hike would be significant, the state’s cigarette tax would still be lower than the three border states, 53 cents a pack lower than the current tax in the Bay State.

“I think it’s important to drive sales into the state,” said Rep. Jeffrey Oligny, R-Plaistow. “If we have a competitive advantage, then so be it. People who buy cigarettes will always look for the best deal.”

Some smokers buying cigarettes along the border yesterday agreed.

Rob Medeiros of Fairhaven, Mass., said he buys cigarettes whenever he’s in New Hampshire. If the tax hike goes through, he said, the Granite State may see fewer customers from south of the border.

“There’s going to eventually be a tipping point,” Medeiros said. “I could see myself eventually cutting back and then possibly for good.”

The rate would increase from $1.68 to $1.98 per pack, a $3 dollar increase per carton.

Chanta Pen, owner of Mini Express in Plaistow, is worried about the impact that could have on her business.

“It’s already expensive as it is,” Pen said. “I can’t lower it any more myself or I would get no profit.”

The then-GOP-controlled House lowered the tax rate by 10 cents in 2011. Hassan’s proposal would restore that tax cut and raise it 20 cents more.

“I worry Massachusetts people won’t come to New Hampshire as much,” said Kamal Patel, owner of Discount Stateline Store in Salem.

Kevin Whitaker of Wakefield, Mass., was buying cigarettes yesterday at Foods Plus on Route 125 in Plaistow. He said prices are high enough.

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