"Since state and local governments began slapping heavy taxes on cigarettes, a number of smokers have managed to pay less by . . . rolling their own," writes Chris Moran of The Consumerist.
The trick is to buy a bag of loose tobacco for well below the cost of a normal pack -- or carton -- of cigarettes and then roll your own cigarettes using the automated machines found in many corner store tobacco shops.
However, as is usually the case when someone discovers how to legally and lawfully avoid outrageously high taxes, state legislators are not amused.
"It's a willful attempt to evade the tax that is in Massachusetts," says Massachusetts State Senator James Timilty to WBZ-TV. "We should shut them down."
Watch the WBZ-TV News Update:
The roll-your-own machines are costing Massachusetts an estimated $13 million a year in tax revenues while the feds miss out on about $5 million, says Tony Marino, who supplies roll-your-own machines to small stores.
He claims that it is simply smart smokers making a sound financial decision: "[T]here is a law on the books that a lot of people were not aware of, and that as the public becomes more aware of it, the more they are taking advantage of it."
Still, Sen. Timilty thinks Massachusetts should put an end to it.
“It is a constitutional issue when it comes right down to it, taxes have to be enforced uniformly throughout the Commonwealth,” Timility said.
However, some say he shouldn't worry too much: if the legal route doesn’t play out, lawmakers can always take the moral high ground.
“The State Department of Public Health says teenagers are the most price sensitive group and for every 10-percent increase in the price of tobacco there is a 7-percent decrease in consumption,” WBZ-TV Boston reports.
State lawmakers, should they choose to take the "moral" route, would only cite these figures to imply the following: cheap tobacco will encourage/enable teenagers to buy cigarettes -- and we can't have that.
Regardless of which strategy Massachusetts legislators choose to employ, one thing seems clear: the matter is less about the health risks involved in smoking (remember, Massachusetts has long bee been a fierce champion of personal "choice") than it is about holding on to million of dollars in tax revenue.