Cigarettes For $3 A Pack? Roll Your Own

By WBZ-TV Chief Correspondent Joe Shortsleeve

BOSTON (CBS) – A growing number of smokers have found a way to get cigarettes for a small fraction of what they used to pay because they’re not paying most of the taxes.

Is it legal?

It depends on who you ask.

A two ounce bag of tobacco that sells for $5.95 can make approximately 40 cigarettes.

And that is what many smokers doing these days.

They buy the loose tobacco at a growing number of corner stores and then head for the back of the store.

WBZ-TV’s Joe Shortsleeve reports

At those prices, smokers like Paul Nicewicz of Chelsea are all too happy to “roll their own” in small machines.

Paul: “If I was to buy my brand of choice, it would cost me $16 and change, where this is costing me $6 and change.”

Joe: “So you are saving quite a bit?”

Paul: “Exactly.”

How is the “roll your own” cigarette business these days?

The answer?

“Booming,” according to Tony Marino who supplies “roll your own” machines to small stores.

He says tax laws allow smokers to forgo all the heavy taxes on cigarettes if they roll their own and don’t buy ones that are “manufactured.”

He doesn’t doubt for a second this is all legal.

Joe: “Would you agree that you are operating in a loophole?”

Tony: “I agree that there is a law on the books that a lot of people were not aware of, and that as the public becomes more aware of it, the more they are taking advantage of it.”

While Tony’s machines make one cigarette at a time, we found stores with much larger contraptions spitting out a carton’s worth of cigarettes in just minutes.

And the price is about a third of what you’d pay for traditional smokes.

That is costing the state big time.

Joe: “What is the tax liability in Massachusetts?”

Tony: “The tax liability in Massachusetts is $24.90 per carton of cigarettes manufactured.”

Tony: “I would estimate at least 500,000 cartons.  So the state is missing out on $13 million and the feds are missing out on $5 million.”

State Senator James Timilty is the Chairman of the State Revenue Committee on Beacon Hill.

He says, “It’s a willful attempt to evade the tax that is in Massachusetts.”

“We should shut them down.”

“I think the Attorney General and the Department of Revenue have the tools!”

“It is a constitutional issue when it comes right down to it, taxes have to be enforced uniformly throughout the Commonwealth.”

The issue of lost tax revenue to the state is a big deal on Beacon Hill but public health experts say the consequences of cheaper cigarettes are literally deadly.

The State Department of Public Health says teenagers are the most price sensitive group and for every 10-percent increase in the price of tobacco there is a 7-percent decrease in consumption.

Health experts argue the reverse is also true.

This loophole is also an issue in other states.

Last summer the State Supreme Court in New Hampshire ruled stores with “roll your own” machines were technically manufacturers and should be subject to the higher tax rate.

  • Dina

    Hey, they went after the cigarette smokers and now they are after us all. Hear of the movement to tax soda? Vote the bums out.

  • Dan LeBlanc

    How can anyone even think about raising more tax revenue? We already pay more in taxes than most other states! It’s time that the government figures out how to get by on less income, which is what most of us taxpayers are forced to do.

  • toni

    If smoking is so bad for us like the Government says it is, why doesn’t the government ban the sale of cigarettes. The answer MONEY! If the government banned the sale of cigarettes they would lose millions of dollars in tax revenue every year. So, the answer is lets keep selling a product that is known to give people cancer, put a strain on our health care system, and even kill people so we ( the government) don’t lose out on tax money. Hmmmm who’s best interest are they looking out for again?

  • laurens

    The government tells us that cigarettes are bad for us because they cause cancer, heart disease and death. They also put an enormous strain on our health care. However, the government continues to allow the sale of cigarettes in this country, because they know people are addicted to them and will continue to purchase them. Therefore the government taxes the &%$# out of cigarettes, and makes millions of dollars doing so. If cigarettes are so bad for us why doesn’t the government ban the sale of them? Answer MONEY! if the banned the sale of cigarettes they would lose out on millions of dollars in tax revenue every year. So, being the concerned government that is looking out for our best interests, they are going to continue to allow people to buy something that will kill them, so they don’t lose out on needed tax revenue.

    Who’s best interest do they have in mind?

  • Patrick

    First of all the tax on a pack of cigarettes is $2.51 or $25.10 a carton, Tony you need to get your facts right. If we are allowed to used the beer manufacturing equipment to make our own beer tax free why not tobacco? The beer issue went all the way to the Supreme Court and they ruled in favor of the consumer. I am guessing that these machines are costing you money somehow. The reason I believe the government should leave it alone is that a carton of cigarettes today is around $75.00 and the only people a new tax would impact is the working class. These machines are a great way for a person to save money on cigarettes. The amount of sales that come from these machines is such a insignificant amount compared to the entire industry you would have to go into 10,000 of 1 % Tony probably owns a cigarette store in the area and lost around 15 to 20 % of his business and now wants to blame someone.

  • John A

    No, this is bogus (and started in NYC, which to my mind settles it) The relecant taxes have been paid.

    I suppose it will be extended so that if you buy a bookcase from IKEA you will pay tax on what you would pay for an assembled one at Sears.


  • Sharon

    Senator Timilty, seriously? “A willful attempt to evade the tax in Massachusetts”? Try “a way to relieve the burden of an EXCESS tax put upon the smokers of Massachusetts”. You and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue need to look over your own budget and stop coming after the people of Massachusetts (especially us smokers), to pay down the states abuse of their own budget problems. I think I can speak for most smokers that we are WELL aware of how bad smoking is for our health, we have it shoved in our face on a daily basis, in ads, by our Drs, by our insurance carriers, by our families, we get it. But smoking is a legal right, a choice, or at least it should be, but for some reason it is okay for the government to PENALIZE us for CHOOSING to smoke, even though it is legal, that is confirmed by the excess of the cigarette tax. We need more money, no problem, go after the smokers again. Massachusetts is well known for ALL the taxes we have, we get taxed when we make the money, we get taxed when we spend the money, we get taxed when we save the money, we even get chased down and taxed if we spend it in another state, at least the smokers do.. Start spending all your valuable time going over your own budget that you people abuse, rather then looking for ways to get more money from the people you supposively work for. We finally have a chance to save a few pennies, and you want to come after us for that.

  • Dave

    If you would like to find a location that has the machine that makes 200 cigarettes (1 carton) for you in less than 10 minutes go to and put in your zip code. This will give you all of the locations in your area. There are about 50 machines in the state from Yarmouth to Lynn to all the way out to the western part of the state. I am very disappointed in Senator James Timilty for referring to the machines as “a willful way to evade the tax” The machines are a great alternative to sitting at home rolling you own cigarettes. You can now rent this machine for $10.00 and have the machine roll them for you, and it still cost less than $30.00 total for 200 cigarettes (1 carton)

  • gary

    there also is a law on how often and how much the goverment is allowed to tax one item but they do not enforce that either because that is in thier best intrest

  • Should Smokers Have To Pay The Full Tax If They Roll Their Own Cigarettes?

    […] Cigarettes For $3 A Pack? Roll Your Own [WBZ-TV] […]

  • nolo

    silly boston.. how far you’ve fallen since the Boston Tea Party huh.

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