Like a sugar-starved child standing before a candy dispenser, a customer at V & K Smoke Shop in Quincy marvels at the 5-foot-tall, square machine churning out sticks of tobacco. The machine spits out a cigarette every 3 seconds.
“You can’t beat it,” Keith Morrison of West Roxbury said while watching the cigarettes fall from a chute into a white, plastic bucket. “I mean, they’re perfectly packed all the way to the filter.”
Vladimir Georgiev, co-owner of V & K Smoke Shop on Hancock Street, said 90 percent of his customers use the high-volume “roll-your-own” cigarette machines because they save time and money.
But state and federal lawmakers want to reclassify the retailers who own the machines as “cigarette manufacturers.” If this type of legislation passes, machine owners would be subject to new taxes and health code regulations.
In his fiscal 2013 budget proposal, Gov. Deval Patrick recommends raising the cigarette excise tax by 50 cents to $3.01 per pack. A pack of cigarettes now costs an average of more than $8 in the state.
But there is one provision that matters most to the 28 Massachusetts retailers – including two in Brockton and one in Quincy – that own roll-your-own machines: an annual $25,000 licensing fee on every in-store machine.
“If they put in the $25,000 fee, I close the next day,” said Georgiev, who opened his business five months ago.
Georgiev said he paid about $33,000 to buy the machine. He said he’s not allowed to physically help customers use the machine – he can only instruct them – or else he would be considered a manufacturer.
The cigarette machines, produced by an Ohio-based company called Roll-Your-Own (RYO) Machines automate the rolling process by grinding and packing tobacco into 200 cigarette tubes in less than 9 minutes. Buying a carton of 200 prepackaged cigarettes, or 10 packs, is triple the price of using an RYO machine.
For smokers who roll their own cigarettes by using a handheld, or low-volume, machine, the RYO station can save them several hours of rolling time.
“I think they (the high-volume machines) are pretty nifty if you have the $30 or $40 to throw down right away,” Autumn Owens of Pembroke said this week while shopping at Brennan’s Smoke Shop in Pembroke. The store doesn’t have a machine.
But not everyone thinks the machines are nifty. Lawmakers across the nation, including members of the U.S. Senate, are challenging roll-your-own shops, accusing them of capitalizing on an opportunity to make smoking cheaper.