The near future is uncertain for tobacco shops across the nation as a new transportation bill heads to President Obama’s desk.
An amendment to the bill passed by Congress Friday will require tobacco shops with roll-your-own cigarette machines to be licensed as cigarette manufacturers and pay increased taxes.
Here in Austin, John Charlton, owner of Rock Bottom Smokes in Northwest Austin, said Friday’s vote will essentially shut down roll-your-own cigarette shops across the country, including his.
His finger is pointed squarely at corporate lobbying.
“Big tobacco squashed us,” the small business owner said. "We have to restructure now and figure out what viable business we can do without our machines."
But in the roll-your-own industry, the machines are everything.
While a typical smoker spends between 40 and 50 dollars on a carton of cigarettes, Charlton’s customers can purchase all of the ingredients and materials to produce a comparable amount of cigarettes for about $36. They then use the rolling machines to assemble their custom smokes.
Charlton argues that roll-your-own shops provide the smoker with more than simply an avenue to acquire cigarettes on the cheap. He says the tobacco they offer at the shop is additive free and healthier for the smoker and gives the smoker control of the product.
And at Charlton’s shop Saturday morning, his dedicated customer base, one which appreciates the cost and health advantage, packed in, making sure they got at least one more carton of smokes just the way they like them.
The bill is expected to be officially signed into effect by President Obama by the end of the week. Charlton said he will stay in business as long as he can.