Archive for 22nd February 2010

Democratic proposal outrages puffers

The Daily Item

By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item


Valley smokers are incensed at two congressional Democrats’ proposal to increase the tax on pipe tobacco a whopping 775 percent.

Buck Reibsame smokes a pipe in his office at home near Selinsgrove. Robert Inglis/The Daily Item

Ron Rothermel, of Sunbury, is among Valley pipe smokers outraged by the plan to raise the tax from $2.8311 per pound to $24.78 per pound — the same rate that is imposed on roll-your-own tobacco products.

Many Valley smokers saw an opportunity to save money by buying special blends of pipe tobacco to make their own cigarettes after a higher roll-your-own tobacco products tax took effect last year.

“I smoke cigarettes and occasionally pipes,” Rothermel said. “I wish I hadn’t started smoking, but I did, and I resent the government’s actions. I feel they are picking on a certain class of people and taxing that class. The proposed tax is ridiculously high. It certainly could affect whether I buy pipe tobacco in the future.

“If this tax passes,” he fumed, “what’s next? Since excessive intake of sugar is unhealthy and leads to obesity, will they tax sugar? And what about fried foods? Are they going to tax french fries?”

Where is it all going to stop? Rothermel asked.

The widespread anger is a reaction to House Resolution 4439, or the Tobacco Tax Parity Act of 2010, introduced by U.S. Reps. Steve Cohen, of Tennesee, and Lloyd Doggett, of Texas.

Cohen, reached Friday in Washington, D.C., said the idea for his bill originated last year, after passage of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Reauthorization Bill, which increased tobacco taxes to provide tens of millions of America’s children with health insurance.

Since its creation in 1997, CHIP has been funded through revenue generated by federal tobacco taxes.

As part of the CHIP law, roll-your-own tobacco is taxed at a $1.54 an ounce, while pipe tobacco — the exact same product — is taxed at 17 cents an ounce, Cohen said.

“Higher cigarette taxes have proven to be an effective way to discourage children from smoking,” Cohen said. “However, it was only weeks after President Obama signed the Children’s Health Insurance Program into law that the tobacco industry figured out a way to exploit a loophole in the bill that endangers the health of children.

“Roll-your-own tobacco has historically been a small part of the cigarette industry,” Cohen said, but “the exploitation of this loophole enabled roll-your-own tobacco to capture an increasingly large portion of the market. Further exploitation of this loophole has the potential to cost the government more than $30 million a month in lost revenue.”

Instead of folding in the face of high taxes, tobacco companies quickly responded to the roll-your-own tax increase by all but shutting down those brands and reinventing them under a less-taxed category — pipe tobacco.

The tax? About a tenth of roll-your-own tobacco, at $2.83 per pound.

Smokers of pipes and cigarettes responded by buying up pipe tobacco.

Roll-your-own brands disappeared overnight, replaced with pipe tobacco brands carrying the same names.

Tobacco companies on their Web sites said they were just trying to find a legal way to stay afloat after being saddled with an enormous tax increase.

This, Cohen said, is why he introduced the bill, which is now in the House Ways and Means Committee.

House Resolution 4439 has not yet been scheduled for a floor vote, and may not be, said Josh Drobnyk, an aide to U.S. Rep. Chris Carney, D-10, of Dimock.

After all, there is only one co-sponsor.

Of the legislation, Carney said: “I am focused on measures that will improve our economy and ease — not increase — the tax burden on our working families during these tough economic times.”

The tax burden is the point of contention, pipe tobacco users said.

If the bill passes, taxes on tobacco — sold both by the gram and by the ounce — would rise to:

  • $2.43 per 50 grams
  • $2.74 per 2 ounces
  • $10.98 per 8 ounces
  • $24.78 per 16 ounces

These costs would be in addition to the price pipe smokers pay for those amounts of pipe tobacco. For example, with the average price of a 100-gram tin of McClelland Frog Morton about $13.20, the new price would be $18.06.

Government manipulating us, smokers charge

Buck Reibsame, of Selinsgrove, is steamed about the proposed hikes, as are many of his friends.

“I wouldn’t mind a fair tax, with maybe a 6 to 7 percent hike, but this one, if passed, would be outrageous,” he said Thursday.

“I’ve been smoking for about 40 years and I’ve never seen such an attack on a group of people like this one. If those politicians want to do something to raise revenues, how about cutting back on their perks?”

The government, added long-time smoker Jon McLaughlin, of Selinsgrove, is trying to legislate how he lives through tax manipulation.

“Last year they went after roll-your-own smokers,” said McLaughlin, a smoker for 41 years. “This year, they’re going after anything and everyone. It’s just about raising money. It’s always about money.”

What and who is to benefit from the tax increase? asked Bill Jennings, of Lewisburg.

“Don’t people in Congress have much more important things to worry about? And what could possibly be their justification for a tax amount of $24.78 per pound on something that often doesn’t cost that much to begin with?” he asked, and paused for a second. “Oh yeah, I get it. This tax is intended to make it so only the wealthiest can smoke pipes. Well how about that? Come on legislators. Be serious.”

Jennifer, a worker at a local smoke shop, who asked that her surname not be used, said she switched to pipe tobacco, instead of roll-you-own, and began rolling it into cigarettes. “The price was worth it,” she said. “And taste-wise, I didn’t find much difference.”

Now, she may have no choice but to pay higher prices.

Pipe tobacco is nominally coarser and somewhat moister than most blends of cigarette tobacco. But there are no regulations that say it has to be that way. The federal government says the only difference between the two is how the two tobaccos are labeled.

“The bill punishes pipe smokers and retail tobacconists,” said Jonah Johnstone, a smoker from Selinsgrove. Johnstone thinks this is nothing more than an attempt to rope in more taxes from roll-your-own cigarette tobacco re-labeled as pipe tobacco.

A tax increase of 775 percent on anything is ludicrous, Johnstone said.

“It could conceivably destroy an industry of pipe craftsmen, small farmers, tobacco blenders and retailers.”

A heavy hit for retailers and producers

“If this law passes, it could hurt out business a lot,” said Michelle Longenberger, an employee at Puff Discount, in Sunbury.

Pipe tobacco represents 30 to 40 percent of the shop’s business, Longenberger said.

“We sell everything from small pouches of tobacco, for 94 cents, to larger cans, for $16. Most customers who buy are simply rolling their own cigarettes. It’s what I do. You can roll a fair number for less than $2 total. Of course, that would all change if taxes were raised to the proposed levels.

“I really hope the bill doesn’t pass.”

Copyright © 1999-2010 cnhi, inc.

You know, I consider myself somewhat liberal, but I have to tell you, nothing would make me happier than lynching these two representatives.

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Smoke gets in your soul, pipe lovers say

Cap Cod Times

By Doug Fraser
February 21, 2010

MASHPEE — Yesterday was International Pipe-Smoking Day.

How did you let that one slip by?

Portrait of Louis Kircher smoking his Jobey quater-bed bulldog pipe at the Tinder Box. Cape Cod Times/Paul Blackmore

Probably because pipes, once the international symbol of sophisticated masculinity, slipped off the popular radar screen decades ago.

Hugh Hefner, founder of the Playboy empire, and a ’60s male icon, might still wear a smoking jacket over those black silk pajamas, but he quit smoking back in 1985 after a stroke. And nobody really missed it.

Thanks to the anti-tobacco campaign, based on concerns over public health, and waged on the federal, state and local levels, tobacco use of all kinds has dropped steadily since 2002 from 30.4 percent of the people over 12 years of age in 2002 to 28.4 percent in 2008.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s national survey on drug use, 14 percent of the population over 12 years of age in 1965 smoked a pipe. That declined to 2 percent by 1991, and is less than 1 percent today. The trend has been basically flat since 2002.

MASHPEE — 02/17/10 — A variety of pipes made by Savinelli ranging in price from $100 – $500 at the Tinder Box. Cape Cod Times/Paul Blackmore

With smokers exiled from virtually all public places in Massachusetts and non-smoking clauses in many house leases, it’s become harder for guys like Louie Kircher to enjoy a pipe of Sherlock’s Choice, his favorite tobacco blend.

A pipe smoker since he was 17, the 46-year-old Pocasset resident likes the aroma, taste and ritual of cleaning, preparing and lighting his pipe. Cigarettes are like fast food, and cigars are brash, beefy, and extroverted, but pipe smoking, lends itself to a sit, and to contemplation as the smoke wreaths your head and drifts off toward the ceiling.

“It’s relaxing. You just put yourself in neutral and coast,” Kircher said.

In Native American cultures the pipe was part of a ceremony that connected earth and sky, and the pipes themselves and their accessories were often lovingly carved, highly decorated, works of art. So too with modern pipes. Sure, you could buy a $5 corn cob or a simple $25 basket pipe. But why not splurge on a $500 Italian hand-carved briar pipe or spend $200 on a limestone Indian-head pipe from Turkey?

Kircher loves his Ben Franklin, a long-stemmed pipe that burns cool, but he still has the well-worn pipe he first smoked nearly 30 years ago.

The smoking climate has changed in all that time, and Kircher can’t even smoke in his own home because his landlord won’t allow it.

“I don’t mind,” he said. “I go out to the car, turn on the radio and smoke.”

He also visits the smoking room at The Tinderbox at Mashpee Commons, where patrons sit on couches, talk and smoke while watching a flat-panel TV. The thick scent of cigars permeate the room, obliterating all other smells.

MASHPEE — 02/17/10 — Corn cob pipes like these are great for beginners as they cost less than $2.00 at the Tinder Box. Cape Cod Times/Paul Blackmore

Owner Jim Sullivan believes pipe smoking is on the rise. He’s sold dozens of pipes since Christmas. He and Kircher believe people are choosing pipes as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes, and because people are beginning to appreciate tobaccos the way they do a fine wine.

“This is the worst economy in 50 years and my business was up 25 percent last year, and it will be up again this year,” Sullivan said.

Still, all is not well in the land of Meerschaum. A new bill going through Congress would add $24 in taxes onto the $42 per pound price of pipe tobacco. Similar in intent to the health tax imposed on cigarettes, this tax was already levied on tobacco for roll-your-own cigarettes. When those companies got around the tax by rebranding their product as pipe tobacco, federal legislators sought to close that loophole.

Dr. Ann Malarcher, senior scientific advisor to the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, agreed that the risk of death from lung cancer was lower for pipe smokers, at five to six times that of a non-smoker. Cigarette smokers run 20 to 30 times the risk of a non-smoker. But, tobacco use in any form could result in a variety of cancers, heart disease, lung diseases and stroke.

“I would say that pipe smoking is dangerous,” Malarcher said. “When you look at pipe smokers, they are usually also using another tobacco product. The majority are also using cigarettes.”

The majority are also using cigarettes? What the… What pipe smokers does he know?

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