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    Cigarette Stores Expanding in Maine

    Retail concept gaining a greater share of tobacco sales despite higher tobacco taxes.

    As Maine cigarette taxes are about to increase to $1 a pack, shops specializing in tobacco products are expanding in the state.

    Even as cigarette sales have declined in the state, tobacco shops are gaining an ever greater share of sales, the Associated Press reported.

    Dr. Dora Ann Mills, director of Maine's Bureau of Health, said tobacco-only stores are the latest example of the tobacco industry's innovative marketing ability. The proliferation of tobacco-centered shops in Maine is part of a national trend, said Alan Decker, president of Bangor, Maine-based Reid's Confectionery, operator of 21 Cigaret Shoppers outlets in the state.

    "Tax increases imposed by the state have led directly to the rise of stores that specialize in tobacco and use discounts to generate high-volume sales," Decker said. "Normally speaking, a tax increase helps us because our lower margins help defray the tax."

    Tax-revenue figures indicate that cigarette sales in Maine have declined 16 percent since 1997, the year the state doubled the cigarette excise tax to 74 cents from 37 cents a pack. In October, the tax is set to increase again to $1 per pack, the report said.

    While tobacco tax revenues are down, they don't necessarily correlate directly with the prevalence of smoking, tax officials note. Tens of millions of dollars Maine has received as part of a settlement of claims against tobacco companies have been spent on anti-smoking campaigns. The state has recently bolstered its program to discourage youths from smoking by helping to train chain store employees to check for identification of young people who try to purchase cigarettes.

    Decker's stores have signs in their windows that say the store is for "adults only," so they can operate on a serve-yourself basis, he said, adding that he is targeting convenience store and discount store operators by offering cheaper prices, greater convenience and shorter lines.

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