With New York set to become the most expensive state in the nation to buy cigarettes, Pennsylvania tobacco shops could see an increase in cross-border customers coming to the Keystone State to stock up on smokes.
The overall impact on sales is expected to be small however, local retailers said, because New York and New Jersey have had higher tax rates on cigarettes for years and few can afford to travel across state lines just to buy cigarettes.
Any added customers will likely come from New Yorkers visiting the Poconos for other reasons who then make a special effort to buy cigarettes while they are here.
“Most of our customers are local people,” said Dev Patel, manager of the Cigarette and Cigar Outlet on Route 611 in Bartonsville. “We get more out-of-state people on the long weekends because they’re here to go to Mount Airy (Casino Resort) and they buy a few packs. July is going to be very busy with the Fourth of July weekend and table games at Mount Airy.”
Most of the customers who stop at the JCI Cigarette Outlet on Route 611 in Tannersville are also local people, said store owner Michael Martello. With the cost of cigarettes rising, he said even Pennsylvanians are cutting back on tobacco purchases and few New Yorkers visiting the Poconos will be buying in bulk just to save money.
“I have people stop in here on their way to the Crossings Outlets,” Martello said. “They see the prices and they say ‘Wow, I’m paying a lot more than this at home in New York or New Jersey.’ But then they only buy a couple of packs. Because who has the money to buy a few cartons at a time?”
New York legislators plan to raise the state tax on each pack of cigarettes from $2.75 to $4.35 — the highest state rate in the country and well ahead of the $2.70 tax in New Jersey and $1.60 in Pennsylvania. That would raise the price of a pack of cigarettes from about $7 in New York to about $9 — $2 to $3 more than Pennsylvania. New York City adds an additional $1.50 tax per pack.
Several large-scale tobacco outlets greet New Yorkers as they drive across the border into Pennsylvania from New York on Interstate 84 in Matamoras.
A manager at one store, Tobacco Road on Route 6, estimated that at least 85 percent of that store’s customers already come from either New York or New Jersey but it is possible that more would be motivated to drive to Pennsylvania if the taxes rise in New York.
“It just means more business for us,” said Melissa Hargadon, manager of the Smokers Choice store in Matamoras.
She said New Yorkers drive as much as three hours to stock up or come to the Poconos for vacation and stop by to buy in bulk.
Martello, at the JCI Outlet, said instead he fears that more people would be convinced to quit smoking in the face of constantly rising taxes and hurt his business to the point that he is forced to close.
“It would be nice if it meant more business but I just don’t see it in the long run,” he said.
“Sure, people will keep coming in and they will buy (cigarettes) but it won’t make the difference between closing and keeping the doors open.”
The Times Herald-Record contributed to this report.