No More Roll Your Own?

Big tobacco came to the state Legislature this year to get taxes raised on roll-your-own cigarettes.

The tax on pipe tobacco is $2.83 per pound while the tax on cigarette tobacco is $24.78 per pound. A string of shops have been springing up where people buy pipe tobacco, put it in a machine that rolls the smokes, and leave without paying cigarette taxes. In a compromise, the Tennessee bill that passed puts the cigarette tax on the roll-your-owns, but allowed one year before it took effect.

But Phillip Morris lobbyists have been busy in Washington, too. Last Friday's transportation bill contains an amendment that imposes cigarette taxes on roll-your-owns nationwide.

Tennessee is one of three states that produce primarily pipe tobacco. Government figures show that pipe tobacco sales in recent years have gone from 3 million pounds to 30 million pounds, presumably to the nationwide string of roll-your-own shops. Lobbyists for the shops told the Legislature raising the taxes to the level of national brands will likely put them out of business.