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LA CROSSE, Wis. – Even though they argue that they are not cigarette manufacturers, retailers in the state with roll-your-own (RYO) machines inside their stores are going to have to operate like they are.
The Wisconsin Department of Revenue recently informed machine owners like Holy Smokes co-owner Josh Winrich that they need manufacturing and distribution permits, and other approvals for selling RYO cigarettes. The state considers roll-your-own stores as cigarette manufacturers and distributors under a long-standing state law, according to the LaCrosse Tribune.
Despite Winrich’s argument, state agents arrived last week at Holy Smokes and unplugged the machines. Winrich now has 30 days to remove the machines from the store, which he and co-owner Craig Squires opened in April.
For smokers, the advantage of the roll-your-own cigarette machines come down to cost, Winrich told the newspaper. Customers pay $29.95 for tobacco, tubes, paper and filters they feed into machines that churn out about 200 cigarettes in 10 minutes.
"They're either going to continue to roll their own at home or go back over to Minnesota and buy cheaper cigarettes," Winrich said. "People are not going to stop smoking because of this."
Anti-smoking advocates disagree, saying that when the cost of smoking increases, it provides an incentive for people to quit.
Wisconsin officials estimate there are 50 to 100 roll-your-own machines in the state. Retailers could face fines, penalties, permit revocation, imprisonment and/or seizure of the tobacco and other personal property used in this activity. Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the agency was simply enforcing laws that 8,000 traditional cigarette retailers follow.
"There are thousands of other businesses around the state who are providing jobs and following the law," Marquis said. "What this is about is making sure these [roll-your-own] businesses follow the law and fairly compete with other retailers."