New study shows cigarette sales in California dropped dramatically since new cigarette tax went into effect

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Once smokers found out the tax on cigarettes was increasing by two dollars some vowed they would quit. But how many people actually kicked the habit, or at least began to smoke less once prices went up?

"I used to buy like two to three packs a week-- now I buy like one pack a week," said Mercedes Skinner, a smoker.

The study conducted by the State Legislative Analyst Office shows people are buying fewer packs of cigarettes and as a result revenues from the cigarette tax decreased more than 60-percent in May of 2017 compared to May of 2016.

"Sales declined, I'd say dramatically declined," said Zak Refai, High Society Smoke Shop Owner.

Refai just opened a second store and said he has seen a 30 to 40-percent drop in purchases-- he has had to cut back on inventory.

"Some people go toward the big bag of pipe tobacco, they get more for their money with it, or they're converting over to vape because it's a cheaper alternative."

Theresa Juarez, a cashier at EZ Go Mini Mart, said she has not seen a decline in sales, but finds that people are finding ways around the tax increase to save money-- including buying cheaper brands of cigarettes.

"A lot more people buy cartons more than anything, there's 10 in a pack so they'll buy a carton or two-- some of them will call and place an order."

The Analysts Office said it is too soon to tell if this sharp downturn means anything permanent. Since the study also shows tax revenue numbers were up in March and April of this year, people could have simply stocked up on cigarettes ahead of time.

"The sales part of it, I think it will come back once people get accustomed to the price; it's just like anything else, that's what I think," said Refai.

Only time will tell and the Analyst Office said once they receive numbers for the coming months, they will have a better idea whether this decline could be permanent.
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