SALEM — Customers go in and out of Stateline Paysaver on Route 28 every couple of minutes.
Almost everyone is carrying one of the “603 Reasons” readers say New Hampshire is special: cheap cigarettes.
Most are driving vehicles with Massachusetts plates.
“I live in Lawrence and I come here for cigarettes all the time. I don’t even buy cigarettes in Massachusetts,” Christiane Petty said. “Packs cost almost $9 in Massachusetts. Here, they are probably around $6.”
Petty admits she loves New Hampshire.
“There is a lot to do up here,” she said.
Those cheap cigarettes help make the state special for her.
“They are definitely a plus,” Petty said.
David Ross had driven from Medford.
“The only time I don’t buy in New Hampshire is when I’m in Florida,” he said, noting cigarettes are cheap down South.
Ross said two cartons in Salem cost him $45 each, which he estimates is a $25 savings over Massachusetts.
“It’s worth the ride,” he said.
Ross knows cigarettes. He started smoking when he was 15 and has been puffing away more than 50 years.
“My mother, Evelyn, smoked to 95 and then died — and she had a Manhattan every day,” he said. “Her doctor said that’s what was keeping her alive.”
Jim Flagg from Andover was on one of his regular trips to Stateline.
“I only buy in New Hampshire now,” Flagg said. “They are $6 a pack here, about $10 in Massachusetts.”
Three months ago, Flagg said, he went to the corner store near his home, around the time Massachusetts raised the cigarette tax.
“I handed the clerk a $10 bill and waited for change,” Flagg said. “He said, ‘You owe me 10 cents.’ I said, ‘Whoa!’”
Both states increased taxes on cigarettes this year.
But when New Hampshire went up a dime to $1.78 per pack, Massachusetts climbed $1 to $3.51.
“When they went up on the tax, that was ridiculous,” said Kevin DeClercq, who was carrying a couple of packs of Newport Lights.
“In Massachusetts, these would have cost me $18 or $19,” he said. “Here, they were $13.40.”
New Hampshire has brought in $103.8 million in tobacco tax revenue this year.
DeClercq is a 45-year smoker who said there is not much to like about smoking.
“I’m trying to quit,” he said. “I’ve got it down to being a habit now. I can go eight hours without smoking.”
Doug Hamel from Methuen said he drives across the state line all the time.
“There is a big savings,” Hamel said. “I bought four packs. I saved at least $2 a pack and I bought some beer. I saved $10 to $12.”
Emerald Donovan, 18, said she got an early start smoking and remembers the first time.
“I stole a cigarette from my mother,” she said.
Donovan drives to Salem two or three times a week to stock up on Marlboro Smooth 100’s.
“I’m saving $3 or $4 a pack,” she said.
Donovan is who the Chamber of Commerce crowd thinks of when they talk about Massachusetts smokers boosting the economy.
She said she buys other products when she comes to New Hampshire, “almost everything else.”
Petty also buys more than cigarettes on her trips.
“My shopping is mostly done up here,” she said.
Michael Quaglietta of Lawrence had cigarettes on his Christmas shopping list.
“I bought two cartons,” he said. “These are Christmas presents for friends.”
He estimated his savings at $60.
Rob Newland of Methuen had three packs of Marlboro Reds.
“I paid $18,” he said. “For two packs in Massachusetts, I would have paid $20.”
For Flagg, the savings is what makes New Hampshire special.
“Everything is 10 times better,” he said. “Massachusetts kills you.”