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Local retailers fretting over cigarette tax

As the drive-thru bell rings at Shamrock Carry Out, owner Sue Selb worries that it won't be ringing as often next month.

"They're running all our Ohio people to Kentucky," she said.

Beginning July 1, cigarettes in Ohio will cost 31 cents more per pack, raising the total amount of taxes to 55 cents per pack. The tax was passed by the state legislature to repair a nearly $2 billion budget deficit.

State Sen. Michael Shoemaker, D-Bournville, paid a visit to Shamrock yesterday to condemn the tax. He was joined by Todd Book, a Democratic candidate for the 89th District of the Ohio House of Representatives .

"We want to make people aware that this is not a fix," said Book, an attorney and resident of McDermott. "This is putting a Band Aid on a very bad wound. This is a quick fix for a bigger problem."

Selb is concerned what the potential loss of business can do to her store.

"I have four full-time and three part-time employees," Selb said. "It remains to be seen how many of them I can keep."

Some of her employees are college students and three of them have children, she added.

"It's going to be very attractive for people to go to Kentucky and West Virginia," Book

said.

When people go to the neighboring states to buy cigarettes, they also will probably buy things such as snacks, soda pop and other items, Book added.

The price for name-brand cigarettes will be approximately $4 per pack, Selb said.

By midnight June 30, Selb said she will have to count every pack of cigarettes in her store. Then, she will have to pay 31 cents per pack to the state, according to a letter she received June 12 from the Ohio Department of Taxation.

"There's going to be some serious drawbacks for border economies," Book said.

One border retailer who could benefit from the cigarette tax is Don Simpson.

Simpson is the owner of Bridge Tobacco in Russell, Ky., which is located at the foot of the Ironton-Russell Bridge.

"Ohio customers are 70 percent of my business," Simpson said. "The ones coming through here aren't happy about the tax."

Since the increased cigarette tax was proposed, Shoemaker has been vocal about his concerns.

"This makes no fiscal sense," said Shoemaker. "We're still going to have holes in the budget and we'll be back right after election to do this all over again."

Book also criticized the tax for its potential impact on Ohio's tobacco farmers.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture is offering 17 tobacco farmers in the state an agricultural easement of $500 per acre if they agree to only use their land for agricultural purposes. However, no farmer in Lawrence County will receive this compensation because the state only had enough money for 3,000 acres of farmland.

"This is disgusting," Book said. "It's another example of people in Columbus overlooking people in the southern part of state."

"This is politics, pure and simple," Shoemaker added. Amelia A. Pridemore/The Ironton Tribune