Tobacco shops cry foul over cigarette machine ruling

by Jenny Novac on October 13, 2011

Some local tobacco shop operators say the state is out of line to try requiring permits and other regulations for roll-your-own cigarette machines.

Cigarette-rolling machine

Roll-your-own cigarette machine

Wayne Johnson, owner of Holy Smokes tobacco shop on London Road, said his store, like others in the state, was shut down for 15 days after the State Department of Revenue claimed last month the shop needed a manufacturing permit to operate roll-your-own cigarette machines.

The shop was allowed to reopen Friday after a Dane County judge imposed an injunction against the state’s crackdown in response to a lawsuit filed by another shop owner.

Johnson disagrees his shop is manufacturing cigarettes.

“But what we do is we sell the product to you, and then you rent the machine from us and we don’t do any of it,” Johnson said. “We don’t have anything to do with making them because we rent the machine to you.”

Johnson said his shop’s rolling machine costs $32,000 to buy, and the store charges $8.25 to rent it.

In recent years roll-your-own cigarettes have become increasingly popular in the state.

Tobacco shops have begun selling loose tobacco to consumers who load it into machines in the store, which roll dozens or more of cigarettes in a matter of minutes. Loose tobacco is much cheaper than premium brand cigarettes.

The revenue department is now seeking to require shops to have permits, which include fees, for the machines because it says they amount to manufacturing operations.

Shop owners dispute this as a double tax.

State officials showed up at Eau Claire Tobacco, 3577 Gateway Drive, two weeks ago and stopped the shop from using its cigarette-rolling machines, said manager Jessica Hartkemeyer.

Hartkemeyer said Eau Claire Tobacco’s machines are smaller than some others.

And while the shop doesn’t charge a rental fee to use the machine, Hartkemeyer said the shop’s employees don’t assist customers with rolling cigarettes.

“I don’t think the government knows what they’re talking about here. We don’t manufacture cigarettes here,” she said.

Johnson said many of Holy Smokes customers buy loose tobacco because it has fewer additives than name-brand cigarettes and it’s cheaper.

He said requiring manufacturing permits would make rolling your own cigarettes more expensive and would hurt smoke shops’ business.

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