Tobacco shops developing a ‘cigarette haven’

Where there’s smoke there’s profit in Westfall and Matamoras.

In a two-mile strip of Route 6/209, from Westfall to the Port Jervis bridge, there are eight — count ’em, eight — tobacco shops, with two more on the way.

New Yorkers looking to escape that state’s $4.35-a-pack cigarette tax cross the Delaware River for Pennsylvania’s per-pack cigarette tax of $1.60.

“There’s lots of call for it. This is cigarette haven, I guess,” said Matamoras Mayor Richard Gassmann. “I wish we had a variety of businesses, but we don’t.”

Tobacco King, next to the Westfall Fire Department, opened last week, and manager Jimmy Patel is confident the business will do well.

“Everyone (all tobacco shops) will survive. This is the golden period to make a profit,” Patel said. He compared tobacco shops to gas stations. Consumers will go to the one in the neighborhood offering the lowest price, even if the savings are just pennies.

If Pennsylvania were to raise its cigarette tax, Patel says the “golden age” would be over. Pennsylvania legislators talked about raising the tax by 10 cents a pack this summer, but it didn’t happen.

The glut of cigarette shops, though, has its downside: A robber armed with a handgun took more than $4,000 in cash from Smokers Choice last week. Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin warned of a herbal incense being sold in some shops that is really a dangerous synthetic marijuana. And the tax difference encourages organized smuggling rings to buy at low prices and sell across the border.

“If you talk to smugglers, it’s a piece of cake. The profit margin is good, the penalties are low and it beats selling cocaine,” said Andrew Hyland, research scientist for the Department of Health Behavior at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y. A van loaded with cigarettes could make a $30,000 profit when sold in a higher tax area, Hyland said.

A new smoke shop is going into the former Hollywood Video store in the Staples plaza. Inside, shelves and some signs are already in place, but the project was issued a stop-work order by Westfall Building Inspector Shawn Bolles because the building had started without a permit. When it opens, it will be the first cigarette store within walking distance of the campus of the Delaware Valley elementary, middle and high schools.

A study by the Stanford Prevention Research Center shows higher rates of smoking at schools with tobacco outlets within walking distance.

“A concentration of tobacco stores in a community makes smoking seem more common and safer than it really is,” said Lisa Henriksen, a senior research scientist at the center.

Another smoke shop is going into the recently renovated building on the corner of Second and Pennsylvania avenues in Matamoras, in the former Robert Hansen Matamoras Garage Auto Repair, according to Gassmann. Three cigarette shops are across the street from this spot.

Paul Gluck, owner of Wooden Treasures in Matamoras, doesn’t mind the tobacco stores.

“They go to New Jersey for gas, Pennsylvania for cigarettes and sometimes they stop in here to shop,” he said.


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