Cheap Cigarettes and How to Get Them

The recent cigarette tax hike has bumped the price of smokes up to more than $9 a pack in some states. 

Committed smokers are fuming and some folks who have been on the fence are thinking about quitting the habit altogether.

Others just want cheaper smokes.

So, if you absolutely must smoke, here are some ways to light up for less, without breaking the law. (Though frankly, we think there are plenty of good reasons to quit.)

Option 1:  Go Generic

You can’t get away from state and local cigarette taxes, but you can smoke a cheaper cigarette. According to Darryl Jayson, vice president of the Princeton, N.J.-based Tobacco Merchant’s Association, consumers can shave as much as 10% off the cost of a pack when they buy generic brands such as GPC (Stock Quote: RAI) and Basic (Stock Quote: MO). Generic cigarettes are produced by the big cigarette manufacturers like R.J. Reynolds, but marketed as discounted brands.

For example, instead of buying a pack of Camels (Stock Quote: RAI) at $4.99 a pack, you could buy a pack of Basic brand cigarettes for $4.00 a pack, for a savings of 20%.

Option 2: Find a Discount Tobacco Shop


Although it may be convenient to go pick up a pack of cigarettes from a Safeway (Stock Quote: SWY) a tobacco store such as Smoker Friendly may be better for your wallet.

For instance, a carton of Marlboros, which retails for $50.49 at Safeway in Fountain, Colo., goes for $43.49, a 14% savings, at Smoker Friendly, a national chain with 610 stores. For a two-pack-a-day smoker, that would mean savings of $470 a year.


Option 3: Consider Outlet Brands

Most cigarette outlets are located in states with lower cigarette taxes such as Virginia, North Dakota and South Carolina (which, FYI, has the lowest cigarette taxes in the country). 

At outlet stores (locations in 33 states can be found online) consumers can find low-cost, independent alternatives to major brands like Newport (Stock Quote: LO) and Winston (Stock Quote: RAI). Instead, smokers might choose Quincys, made by the Blue Grass Tobacco Co., or Select Ones, produced by the Buymor Corporation.

“It is difficult for smaller cigarette manufacturers to compete as many are unable to enter the traditional distribution system,” Jayson says. “So cigarette outlet store franchises make deals with these small cigarette companies that deliver their products directly from the manufacturer to the retailer, which can cut the cost to the consumer.”

Option 4: Buy in Bulk Online

Here in New York, a smoker can easily spend $10 on a pack of Marlboros (Stock Quote: MO), or $100 a carton’s worth. At Cigarette Express, smokers will pay $45.99 plus about $5 shipping for a carton. That’s a savings of almost 50%. Beyond that, if you buy more than one carton, you’ll save on shipping. Five cartons only cost about $10 to ship domestically.

Smokers who buy in bulk will tell you that if you do buy multiple cartons, the best way to keep them from going stale is to store them in the fridge.

And since pries online are always changing, make sure to keep your eyes open for a sudden hot deal. A recent example: A carton of Marlboro Reds purchased from BigIndianTobacco.com cost $45.99. On BargainCigs.com, the same carton went for $38.99. CigOutlet.net had an even deeper discount: A carton of Marlboro Reds for as little as $14.90. (However, you had to buy two cartons in order to take advantage of the deal.) 

Keep in mind that you have to declare these purchases to your state’s department of revenue. If you don’t, your state Attorney General could find you and charge you with tax evasion.

Option 5: Buy Duty Free

Duty-free stores around the world offer cartons of premium brands such as Marlboro for as little as $30.99, or 39% off the common retail price.

However, if you’re thinking of strolling into an airport for tax-exempt smokes, think again. According to Patrick Fleener, an economist with the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation, you’ll need an international airline ticket to take advantage of these savings. “You can’t go into a duty-free store in your own country and get the discount,” Fleener says.

Remember to consider the rules and restrictions, which can vary depending on the travel plans. Whether or not you stay at least 48 hours in a foreign land, for instance, can determine the amount of goods you can bring home without a surcharge. DutyFree.com is a good resource for questions.

Option 6: Hit the Road

Road trips can present opportunities to save on cigarettes.

According to Jayson, you’re in no danger of breaking the law if you choose to drive from Boston, Mass., where the state cigarette tax is $2.51, to neighboring Concord, N.H. where that same pack will be taxed at $1.33.

Just don’t get carried away. If you’re caught transporting 10,000 or more cigarettes (that’s 500 packs) across state lines you could go to jail for smuggling under the Patriot Act.

In addition to South Carolina (where the tax is seven cents), the cheapest destinations in terms of state taxes (pdf) include Missouri (17 cents), Mississippi (18 cents) and Virginia (30 cents).

Not an Option: Native American Reservations
Native Americans do not pay taxes on cigarettes purchased on their land, but others are supposed to.

However, not all smokers are willing to pay up. In September 2008, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg filed a complaint against cigarette dealers on the Poospatuck Indian Reservation in Long Island. These businesses allegedly sold an estimated 24 million cartons of cigarettes to non-Natives on a tax free basis since 2004. (It is estimated that these sales cost New York as much as $720 million in taxes.) The legal battle continues, with a hearing scheduled for May 15.

Failure to pay state and federal income tax is a crime, and while you’re probably not going to be pulled over for smuggling cigarettes out of the Chukchansi Gold Casino in Madera, Calif., it’s probably better to pay a little more for a cigarette than to engage in criminal activity.

Cigarettes in prison, we've heard, are not exactly cheap.

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