Roll-It-Yourself Tobacco Shop Under Fire Smokers have been lining up at a New Hampshire tobacco shop to use a commercial machine to roll their own cigarettes. But state officials want to pull the plug. They say the shop is now a cigarette manufacturer and can no longer sidestep what it owes the government.

Roll-It-Yourself Tobacco Shop Under Fire

Roll-It-Yourself Tobacco Shop Under Fire

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At Tobacco Haven in Brookline, N.H., you can make your own cigarettes. But the state of New Hampshire is suing the store, arguing that it is circumventing fees placed on cigarette manufacturers. iStockphoto.com hide caption

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At Tobacco Haven in Brookline, N.H., you can make your own cigarettes. But the state of New Hampshire is suing the store, arguing that it is circumventing fees placed on cigarette manufacturers.

iStockphoto.com

Smokers in a New Hampshire tobacco shop have been lining up to use a commercial roll-your-own machine. The contraption spits out hundreds of cigarettes — for less than half the price of brand names.

But state officials want to pull the plug. They say the shop is now a cigarette manufacturer and can no longer sidestep what it owes the government.

At Tobacco Haven in Brookline, N.H., open plastic bins of loose tobacco sit on a tabletop near a high-tech cigarette-making machine. Customers get to choose their own blends and roll their own cigarettes.

"It's all pretty much natural stuff," says Steven Correia, whose father owns the store. "People love them. [They are] as equivalent to Marlboros. We can make anything, from ultralights all the way to the hardest-kicking menthol you can imagine."

Users shove the tobacco into what looks like a vending machine, slide in the cassette of empty paper tubes. And then:

"Close the door," Correia says. "Hit the OK-done button again. And the machine starts producing cigarettes — 200 of them. Takes about eight solid minutes."

Customer Chuck Little uses the machine to roll his own cigarettes. He's in his 20s and is someone who watches his budget.

"The costs keep going up and up and up," Little says. "They keep taxing cigarettes. I mean, at least a couple of times a year. It's getting outrageous. It's making people stop smoking. People are resorting to making their own."

Little comes to Tobacco Haven once a week.

"I mean, you can buy two cartons for the price of one," he said.

That's a sweet deal. But it may not last.

State Seeks Revenue From Shop

The state is suing the smoke shop, arguing that it is trying to get around its financial obligations as a cigarette manufacturer.

More than 10 years ago, major tobacco companies agreed to help fund medical expenses for illnesses related to smoking. Even the smaller shops are on the hook for making payments to the government.

Jeffrey Burd, an attorney for Tobacco Haven, contends that the shop is not a cigarette manufacturer.

"The state of New Hampshire is essentially saying that the retailer is making cigarettes and then selling the cigarettes that it's making," said Burd. "That's clearly not happening at the store."

David Rienzo, New Hampshire's assistant attorney general, disagrees. Rienzo says it doesn't matter whether the consumers or the retailers are rolling their cigarettes.

"The difference is in the commercial nature of this transaction," he says. "What we have here is a business, which is selling all the raw materials, and then making the facilities of the manufacturer available for a price to the consumer."

More Lawsuits To Follow?

Rienzo says that if New Hampshire doesn't take action, the state could jeopardize the $50 million it receives from the tobacco agreement every year. Machines like the one in New Hampshire are turning up in other parts of the country.

If New Hampshire wins its case, other states may file suit. But smoke shops aren't worried about coming up with the money for the health fund. That's small change.

If they're deemed cigarette manufacturers, they'll have to pay all the same taxes the bigger tobacco companies do. And the savings they've been advertising to customers? They're bound to go up in smoke.