Smokers find money-saving alternatives

By Ryan Chodora

Rolling cigarettes makes high prices and taxes on smoking a thing of the past.

Rolling cigarettes with pipe tobacco is a cheaper alternative than buying retail cigarettes. The average pack of cigarettes costs $6.94 with taxes in Illinois, while rolling cigarettes may cost as low as $1.20 a pack. This substitute way of attaining cigarettes can potentially save a smoker hundreds of dollars every year.

Rolling cigarettes involves a rolling machine, whether handheld or electric. Cigarette rolling machines can cost anywhere from $10 to $200.

Premade cigarette tubes are available; these tubes range in sizes, colors and lights, and include filtered tips. The cost for a box of 200 tubes is about $3. The tubes are made to be indistinguishable from a retail cigarette. A small portion of tobacco is packed into a fill slot on the machine, and depending on each machine, there will be either a crank or a lever that will compress the tobacco and slide it into the empty tube. The entire process of rolling a cigarette takes seconds and rolling an entire pack of cigarettes takes minutes.

“Pipe tobacco is kind of like a safe haven for people who want to roll their own cigarettes,” said Tom Allen, president of Smoke 4 Less, 2900 DeKalb Ave., Unit B, in Sycamore.Smoke 4 Less is a new shop that allows patrons to purchase bulk tobacco and roll cigarettes.

There is a significant difference in pricing between cigarettes and pipe tobacco. Illinois state taxes on pipe tobacco is $2.83 a pound, while an average price for a pound of pipe tobacco will cost about $18, and a pound of pipe tobacco can make about 400 cigarettes, according to Sue Mustafa, owner of Smoker’s World, 818 W. Lincoln Highway.

“They say it’s pipe tobacco, but it’s really used for cigarettes,” Mustafa said. “This way the tax gets lowered when they call it pipe tobacco.”

Pipe tobacco comes in several different flavors including menthol, light, full flavor and regular. Mustafa said smokers often prefer the taste of pipe tobacco to its cigarette counterpart.

Smokers in Illinois face higher tax burdens than most other states as well, with Chicago having the second highest price per pack average in the country–$5.66 a pack–second only to New York City at $5.85 a pack, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The $3 Cook County tax on a pack of cigarettes is the second highest single tax placed on cigarettes in the country, higher than the federal tax tax on cigarettes, $1.01 a pack, and second to the New York State tax, $4.35 a pack.

“Cigarettes [prices] have gone up double in my lifetime, it’s insane,” said Greg Lawson, co-owner of Shadowlands, 1027 W. Hillcrest Drive.

A pack of cigarettes in Chicago has $6.67 attached to the price in city, county, state and federal taxes. According to the 28th edition of the Illinois Tax Handbook for Legislators, Illinois received $560.8 million in cigarette tax revenue in 2011.

“I think they are raising the price of cigarettes to discourage smoking,” said senior psychology major Mark Zarnecki. “But ultimately, it’s the smoker’s choice to smoke.”