Virginia Cigarette Tax increase

A sign at Smokey’s Tobacco Outlet in Bluefield, Va., informs shoppers of the increase in the Virginia Cigarette Tax. 

BLUEFIELD, Va. — Virginia’s cigarette taxes are scheduled to increase by 30 cents a pack when July 1 arrives, but retailers are seeing increased sales despite the price increases and the ongoing pandemic.

Beginning July 1, the tax rate doubles for cigarettes and other tobacco products currently subject to the tax, according to the Virginia Department of Taxation. The tax on a pack of cigarettes increases from 30 cents to 60 cents per pack.

Another reason why cigarettes prices are going up is because one of the country’s largest cigarette manufacturers, Marlboro, is about to raise the price of its products, District Manager Michael White of Smokey’s Tobacco Outlet said. 

With Marlboro’s increase and the increased tax, the cost of a pack of cigarettes will go up 40 to 50 cents a pack, and there could be a $4.50 to $5 increase for a carton, he said. Marlboro has been increasing its prices an average of three times a year.

Despite increasing prices and the ongoing pandemic, cigarette sales have stayed strong and they continue to go up.

“The strange thing is the cigarette business has been booming since all this COVID started,” White said. “Our sales have increased significantly since the coronavirus started and they’ve maintained that. We thought once everybody got back to work things would drop back down, but they haven’t. We’ve seen a 20 percent increase over the past couple of months. It hasn’t lightened up at all.”

The boost in sales hasn’t been confined to one locality.

“We’ve got three stores,” White said. “We’ve had the same level of increase in all three stores. We do foresee a lot of traffic coming across the border. This is the first Virginia tax increase we’ve been through...our sales definitely increase every time West Virginia raises its taxes.”

Liquid nicotine subject to Virginia’s tobacco products tax, also known as vaping products, will be 6.6 cents per milliliter on purchases on or after July 1. White said his company’s stores stock some vaping products, but there are no plans to raise their price until the stores have to order new merchandise.

The difference in cigarette taxes between the West Virginia and Virginia does impact sales in the Mountain State, Manager Jewel Denbo of Smoker Friendly in Princeton said.

“There’s a lot of people who say cigarettes just cost too much here. They’ll just go down the road and get them in Virginia,” she said. “We do suffer from that, unfortunately.”

Driving into another state to buy cigarettes does not save money automatically if the trip is only for cigarettes, she stated.

“If you’re not going to Virginia for anything else, you might as well buy them here because you’re just putting (money) in that gas tank,” Denbo said.

Denbo said she had not received any notices from the state about West Virginia’s cigarette tax increasing. 

During the 2020 regular session of the West Virginia Legislature no bill was enacted increasing, or decreasing, the tobacco excise taxes, or increasing, or decreasing, the tax on e-cigarette liquids, according to Alicia Elam Clark, an executive assistant at the West Virginia State Tax Department.

With the Virginia new tax in place, the average price of a pack of cigarettes in Virginia will be $5.86, according to the nonprofit organization Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The average price of a pack in West Virginia will be $6.14.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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