Smoke 'em if you can afford 'em

Price of cigarettes will increase Jan. 1; Kmart going smokeless

There's one question that customers constantly ask Craig's Smoker Friendly manager Jo Deena Bullock: When are cigarette prices going up?

Colorado voters overwhelming passed a 64-cent increase on a pack of cigarettes and a 20 percent tax increase on other tobacco products. Price increases go into effect Jan. 1.

"(Customers) ask me daily when prices are going up," she said. "Then they say they're going to quit at the beginning of the year."

The new tax means that a pack-a-day smoker will spend about $235 more a year on cigarettes. Even so, Bullock said her business is faring well. Some people are stocking up with cartons; others regularly stop in from one to three times a day to buy single packs.

Of all her customers, Bullock said only one man said he already has quit chewing. But quitting smoking or chewing tobacco probably isn't on the New Year's resolution lists of a large majority of customers, she said.

"They just enjoy it," Bullock said. "They'll just scrimp somewhere else."

Craig's Kmart has decided to go smokeless, partly because of the tax increase, manager Derek Zuver said. The store's corporate decision also was influenced in part because of a high rate of theft of cigarettes and because they often couldn't be sold quickly enough before going stale. Zuver said he wasn't sure whether other Kmart stores also would be dropping their tobacco products.

"Traditionally, any tax increase means a decrease in sales," Zuver said. "Cigarette sales have been declining in the last five years. We lose more money than we should."

Craig Kmart takes in about $5,000 a week in cigarette sales, Zuver said.

The $175 million a year in estimated revenue from the voter-approved Amendment 35 is planned to assist health care programs for children, the elderly and indigent populations. Lawmakers are expected to pass legislation next year to forward those dollars toward health care.

Kathy Bockelman, leader of Moffat County's Get R!EAL Tobacco Prevention Coalition said she hoped some of those dollars could help the local program. This year, the program received a $1,500 grant, but that's down from the $4,000 it has received in years past, she said.

Bockelman said passage of the measure helped vindicate students' work. Get R!EAL, which is made up of mostly middle- and high school-aged students, works to deter tobacco use among students' peers and adults by using education and demonstrations.

"Research shows that the higher the cost, the less people smoke," she said.

The group may plan an anti-tobacco demonstration at Aspen's X-Games this year. Other plans may include a public game of "Lives in Jeopardy." Similar to the TV version, the game promotes tobacco education through a question and answer setup. Bockelman said Get R!EAL members also may propose anti-tobacco legislation to Craig's City Council.

But the mandated tax increase may be the ticket to prohibit potential young smokers, Bockelman said.

"I think it may slow down kids taking up the habit," she said.

Area agencies distributed 250 anti-smoking kits last month. Smokers who want help to quit can contact a free Colorado Quitline at 1-800-639-QUIT or access online counseling services at www.co.quitnet.com.

Danny McGoldrick with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said those who quit smoking would decrease their blood pressures within a half hour.

Those who quit on midnight on New Year's Eve will have lowered carbon monoxide levels by noon on New Year's Day.

"By Jan. 2, your risk of heart attack will already begin drop," McGoldrick said in a statement. "By the spring, your circulation and lung function will have improved, and walking and exercising will have improved."

According to Judy Hiester of Northwest Colorado Tobacco Prevention Program, Moffat County residents have been slow to use the Colorado Quitline.

As of last month, about a dozen people had accessed the services.

Nine of 10 people are more successful quitting when they have help, she said.

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