Area residents find ways around cigarette tax

Eric Butler

Teenagers were the target when New Mexico lawmakers decided to add a 70-cent-a-pack tax on cigarettes. The extra cost, they reasoned, would help prevent cash-poor kids from taking up the habit.
When the tax went into effect on July 1, adult smokers in eastern New Mexico also felt the price pinch.
But many smokers are finding ways around the government hurdle.
The tax, which adds $7 to each carton of cigarettes, applies only to pre-packaged cigarettes and only to those sold in New Mexico.
So some Clovis-area smokers have taken to making their own cigarettes or traveling to Texas to buy them.
For smokers who don’t want to make the 15-minute trip into Texas, cigarette-making has become a newfound hobby to go with their habit. Injector machines, which can range in price from $5 to $50, allow users to push cigarette tobacco into a hollow cigarette tube.
At Cigarette Express in Clovis, a box of tubes costs $1.85 while a one-pound bag of cigarette tobacco runs $15. Although it can take as long as an hour to stuff the equivalent of a carton of cigarettes, Cigarette Express manager Zayne Miller estimates the carton in the homemade case will end up costing around $10 — less than half the cost of a pre-packaged carton.
“They have an hour. When you’re saving that much money, you’ll find an hour,” said Miller, who adds that sales of the bags of tobacco in her store have increased around 80 percent. “I know people who have smoked Benson & Hedges for 20 years who are doing this now. And they’re not going to go back.”
Rose Baker of Fort Sumner took a trip to Clovis and Portales last weekend to buy injector machines for friends and to get supplies to make her own cigarettes.
“I gave them one (to try) and they gave me orders to pick up a cigarette-making machine,” Baker said. “It’s all-natural tobacco, but it’s especially shredded for cigarettes. You can’t tell any difference really. We probably can get two to three cartons for the price of what you’d pay for one. We can roll a carton for $8.”
For those who prefer the manufactured brands, traveling to Texas is a cost-saving option.
On Monday, the price for a box of Marlboros at the Town & Country store in Texico was $29.99. Only blocks away, at the Allsup’s in Farwell, the same carton was selling for $23.99.
The Texas Allsup’s location was adorned with banner signs proclaiming “No High State Taxes on Cigarettes” and “Save on Cigarettes before Crossing State Line.”
Some New Mexicans certainly have already received the message.
“Well, they’re cheaper. With a coupon, you can get a carton (of Marlboros) for around $20,” said Bobby Saiz of Clovis, who was buying his mother cigarettes at the Farwell Allsup’s. “I usually come here for the lotto anyway, so my mom started getting me to pick her up cigarettes too. Lately, for the last month or so, she’s been buying them in Texas.”