Philly cigarette tax: To pay or dodge?

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The long-debated $2-a-pack tax on cigarettes in Philadelphia is set to go into effect as soon as next week. Now, the questions are: Who will pay the tax, who will quit, and who is going to dodge the extra costs by buying outside city limits?

The city projects a 30 percent tax avoidance rate — with people buying smokes on the black market or outside the city — once the tax goes into effect. Over three years, it predicts a 10 to 15 percent reduction in smoking among adults due to the added cost.

At the Hess station at 52nd and City Line Avenue Thursday, employee Hermann Lebo said he hopes the tax pushes him to resist the cigarettes he sells from behind the counter.

“I’m just going to get maybe five packs for now, before the tax goes, and then quit after that,” he said. “Two dollars, that’s really too much.”

But with Montgomery County, and the temptation of cheaper cigarettes, just across the street, Lebo said smoking will be hard to resist.

“Quitting is very hard, so I think I will go to another store,” he said.

Wynnefield resident Sebastian Clarke said he plans to do the same.

“It’s the same thing with gas, if gas is even 10 cents cheaper across the street on the Montgomery County side, I’m going across the street,” Clarke said.

Clarke said he feels sorry for people who don’t have that option.

“People who live in the inner city, say you don’t drive, you’re stuck,” Clarke said. “You gotta pay $8.50 for a pack of cigarettes, that’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Smoking while waiting for the bus in Center City, Ronda Carrington said she holds out hope that the $2 tax will help her quit. In the past, though, price has not been a deterrent for her.

“I smoke, I’m a smoker,” Carrington said. “When you go down to Atlantic City or something like that, they’re $13 or $14, you buy them down there. You might as well buy them in the city of Philadelphia.”

At least here, Carrington said, she will be supporting city schoolchildren as revenue from the added tax will go to the Philadelphia School District.

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