Roll-Your-Own Smoke Shops Fight "Manufacturer" Label

Related Story

COLUMBIA - Bruce Hendren says he knew what he was up against when he opened Roll On smoke shop in downtown Columbia last summer. Even though customers flocked to his new business that allowed them to roll their own smokes for a cheaper price, some cigarette manufacturers and lawmakers thought the business was taking advantages of a loop-hole in the tobacco tax.

When operating these Roll-Your-Own machines, customers typically use"pipe tobacco" which is not taxed as highly as cigarette leaves. Depending on the state tax, this feature can make a carton of Roll-Your-Own cigarettes a fraction of the cost of "ready-made" cigarettes like Marlboros or Camels that customers purchase at a convenient store or a gas station.

"I think they love it" Hendren said. "I got a lot of people that keep coming back"

Hendren says because of this, his business has seen a lot of success, and he's not alone. Hendren is part of a growing state and nation-wide trend that shows roll-your-own tobacco machines becoming more and more popular. According to Hendren, when he opened his shop eight months ago he was only one of three shops that offered the roll on machines in Missouri. Now there are 26 shops in the state. 

Many lawmakers now want to label shops like Roll On as manufacturers. This would hold them to the same standards, in terms of taxes and regulations as the entire cigarette industry. Just last week the U.S. Senate passed a bill that, if passed, would treat any retailer that provides roll-your-own machines for their customers like mainstream cigarette manufacturers. Last month Missouri Senator Dan Brown, R-Rolla, proposed a similar bill that would label shops with these roll-your-own machines as manufacturers.   

"Some folks feel they're being unfairly taxed when these folks aren't paying any tax," said Brown.

Hendren says if bills like these pass he will surely go out of business. Hendren has collected 400 signatures as part of a petition to challenge the manufacturer label.

"Probably essentially prohibit me from doing business," said Hendren.