Cigarette Sales In Stores Down, Online Up

By: Venton D. Blandin
By: Venton D. Blandin

July 25, 2005

Smoking in America has been declining partly because rising tobacco taxes have driven the cost of cigarettes up. However, the trend may be threatened by people surfing the internet.

It's a worry for parents to find out their child is smoking.

"A pack will last me about two days," said Kristina Haney, a 17-year old who smokes.

This teenager, who's mom knows she smokes, is aware of the risks.

"It can kill you and give you lung cancer," said Haney.

Not only is it unhealthy, it can be expensive, too.

Some cigarette brands in the Commonwealth of Virginia cost nearly $4.00, and often more than that. For those who smoke more than a pack a day, the smoking budget can exceed $100 a month.The Virginia tobacco tax is .30 a pack. Other states are as high as $1.50, and those taxes are likely to go up.

The price may keep teens steering clear of the stores, but they're also being driven to the information superhighway. It's estimated, for every 10% increase in cigarette prices, smoking among kids decline by more than 6%.

"Teenagers only have so much income, and if you increase the tax, they'll smoke at a lower rate," said Dr. Mark Robbins, of the University of Virginia Hospital.

Nearly every store in town is onboard with the anti-smoking effort, by enforcing the laws banning tobacco sales to minors, but the laws are being threatened by sales over the internet.

There's more than 400 websites on the internet selling cheap cigarettes. Many of them in foreign countries or on American Indian Reservations. Their prices are low, because they don't charge tobacco taxes.

The general accounting office says states are losing as much as $200 million a year in uncollected revenue. While it is illegal not to pay the state tobacco tax, authorities are focusing their enforcement efforts on people buying large quantities of cigarettes over the internet, with the purpose of selling them for profit.

Dr. Robbins adds smoking causes more than emphysema and lung cancer. It also causes heart disease, impotence, wrinkles, and bad teeth.

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