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JANESVILLE, Wis. -- A pair of state tax increases that raised the price of a carton of cigarettes by $17.50 over the last two years is causing double-digit losses for tobacco retailers in the state, as smokers cross the border into Illinois for cheaper packs and cartons following the latest Sept. 1 boost, JSOnline.com reported.
Zack Mussina, owner of the four-year-old Smoker's World tobacco shop here, said he's being hammered by the $15 to $20 price difference between Wisconsin and Illinois cigarette cartons.
"It's terrible, actually. Everybody's going to Illinois," he said in the report. "From '07 until now, percentage wise [I'm] down say 40 percent. And I've seen records of the stores across the border, and they're up over 1,000 percent."
Michael Lindaas, owner of the Tobacco Shack in Beloit, Wis., told the Web site his sales plunged from 1,700 cartons a week to around 300. Meanwhile, at Badger Spirits, a Beloit liquor store, cigarette sales have dropped by half, owner Alice Blue said in the report.
And the same goes for a BP convenience store in Kenosha, Wis., where employee Nick Ahmad said their tobacco distributor used to deliver 400 cartons a week, and currently they order less than 100.
Across the border at Smoke 4 Less, located south of the state line in Winthrop Harbor, Ill., store owner Bilal Akhtar sells a carton of Newports for $44.99, while Wisconsin c-stores charge nearly $65, according to the report. He estimated his cigarette sales have increased 35 percent to 40 percent since the Wisconsin tax hikes.
"When they raised the tax in Wisconsin," he said, "then people come here and buy."
Akhtar told the Web site he sees customers from as far away as Milwaukee, and some buy five cartons at a time, the maximum manufacturers allow.
"I'll come probably like twice a week," Sara Duff, a 21-year-old criminal justice student at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, said in the report. She had driven nine miles out of her way for her Marlboro Lights.
"I'll buy my carton and then my parents will give me money to buy their carton of cigarettes," she said.
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