Cigarette sales drop considerably in Franklin

Published 10:52 am Saturday, April 24, 2010

FRANKLIN—For every pack of cigarettes David Lee sells, the owner of David’s Market must charge a 50-cent tax for the city of Franklin’s coffers.

For every carton sold, Lee levies a $5 tax.

He claims cigarette sales at his 807 Hunterdale Road store are down due to the tax.

The city has also experienced its own drop in sales.

In February 2010, the city collected 44 percent less in tobacco taxes compared to one year earlier. Taxes collected in February totaled $16,818 and in February 2009, $30,213.

“People aren’t buying cigarettes,” was the explanation from Brenda Rickman, commissioner of the revenue for the city.

Franklin Mayor Jim Councill couldn’t explain the reason for the drop in tobacco sales.

“Until recently, the (tobacco) tax has been ahead of food and lodging,” Council said. “I don’t know what the sudden change is.”

The city also requires patrons of Franklin’s lodging facilities and restaurants to pay a tax. The collection of that tax decreased by 11.6 and 5.4 percent, respectively, in February 2010 compared to February 2009.

Councill noted the city has been watching revenue it gets from the three taxable items.

“We might be $100,000 short (this year),” Councill said.

The city during the 2008-2009 fiscal year collected $238,648 from the tobacco tax. For the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, the city received $173,732 through the end of March, Rickman said.

The 50-cent tax on each pack of cigarettes has been in place since 2004. The tax was increased to 35 cents in 2003, according to records with the city.

Lee isn’t happy with the tax.

“Someone can drive 2 miles (from anywhere within the city) and save 50 cents off a pack of cigarettes,” Lee said.

That’s because neighboring Isle of Wight and Southampton counties can’t charge a cigarette tax; only cities can.

Diamond Maxwell, a cashier at the Sunoco Food Mart at the corner of College and Armory drives, said she hasn’t noticed a drop in cigarette sales.

“It’s hard to believe, but then again cigarette prices are going up and a lot of people can’t afford to smoke,” Maxwell said.

The cheapest cigarettes at the Sunoco are $3.59 for Riverside; the most expensive are Capris at $6 a pack.