They stand waiting at the Manna House for a free lunch.
They wait outside the Salvation Army for bed.
Some don’t know where their next dollar is coming from.
The cigarettes smoking between their fingers suggests how some spent their money.
And now, some Georgia legislators want to get even more. A $1 tax on each pack of cigarettes would raise $354 million a year to help plug a big budget hole, they say. Others say no tax is a good tax.
With the price of popular cigarette brands going to nearly $6 a pack, you figure some people would quit or cut back.
People do cut back, said Sameer Jessani, who runs a family-owned RaceWay convenience store at the Interstate 95-U.S. 341 interchange. For a while.
“It would kill us,” he said of sales.
(You want to say, “So would smoking,” but you bite your tongue.)
“The first time taxes went up, we lost 25 percent … but they came back,” he said.
Sales are about what they were before because, to smokers, Georgia is like a last chance gas station in the desert.
“People going to Florida stop and stock up,” on cheaper cigarettes, Jessani said.
But they get used to the pain, especially the three-pack-a-day chain smokers and go back to their old puff rates.
Al Lecounte of Brunswick quit years ago. Told the prices may go up a buck, Lecounte said, “I’m glad I quit. That was a good move, for my health and the price.”
Everyone remembers where they were when they learned of the Challenger explosion and JFK’s assassination. Lecounte remembers his last cigarette. It was in December 1999.
“I was over in Darien,” he said. “I smoked half of it, put it out and put it back in the pack.” He threw the pack away months later, that half still unsmoked.
Another customer, who overheard the mention of cigarettes, said, “Smoking will kill you. Ask my father. He has stage 4 …”
Her voice trailed off as she left. It doesn’t matter what illness she was talking about. Stage 4 of anything is bad.
Taking an afternoon cigarette break at her Brunswick restaurant, Nancy Melcher said a $1 jump would make her buy fewer cigarettes. She smokes about half a pack a day.
Asked if she felt picked on, she said, no because state revenue has to come from somewhere.
When she learned there was no proposal to put a $1 tax on a six-pack of beer or bottle of wine, she changed her mind.
“Tax alcohol at the same rate,” she said. “Besides, smoking a cigarette driving down the road doesn’t kill somebody.”
It seems the state always gets into people’s pockets through their addictions, be it taxes on smoking or selling lottery tickets to gamblers.
The lottery may be the safest bet. You can blow a lot of money on lottery tickets. Few lottery players – even the two-ticket-a-day players – ever break even. But even the smallest payoff beats the heck out of stage 4.
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