Thomas Patev figures he saves close to $50 a week by rolling his own cigarettes, and not in the manner you might think.
None of that messy roll-your-own-at-home stuff for Patev, a Hyannis resident. Instead, once a week he pops around the corner to the Sav-On gas station on West Main Street in Hyannis, where he buys an 8-ounce sealed pouch of tobacco and a box of paper tubes and then "rents" a cigarette rolling machine at the back of the store. The machine, which stands more than 3 feet high and 4 feet wide, uses an air compressor to force loose tobacco into pre-made paper tubes, replete with filters.
It takes anywhere from seven to 10 minutes for Patev to make between 191 and 201 cigarettes. The number varies, depending upon how tightly packed a consumer wants the cigarette.
"I heard about it and came down a few weeks ago to check it out. I've been coming back ever since," Patev said. "I've told everyone at work. ... I figure if you are going to smoke, might as well find a way to save some money."
Welcome to the world of roll-your-own-cigarettes, where the equivalent of a carton of cigarettes sells for $27.95 rather than the $70 to $85 a commercially produced carton would cost, depending upon brand preference. Roll-your-own cigarettes can come in a variety of strengths, blends and flavors -- just like their commercially produced and packaged cousins.
"I figure this boils down to about $3 a pack," Patev said Tuesday as he prepared his smokes for the week. "I haven't really noticed a difference in quality, just the difference in what I have left over in my wallet."
Station owner Jay Imad installed the machine, manufactured by Cincinnati-based RYO Machine LLC, about four months ago. He had identical machines installed at two other gas station/stores he runs -- Jay Mart on Route 28 in South Yarmouth and a Getty Station on Main Street in Wareham.
"I haven't seen an impact in the packaged sales of cigarettes in my stores," Imad said. "So far the machine hasn't made a dent in those sales. The customers who rent the machine are the people who have been buying tobacco and rolling their own for some time. This just makes it easier for them."
"I do not encourage people to smoke. I am not suggesting people should start," said Imad, who quit smoking seven years ago. "And we are very careful not to sell tobacco to teenagers."
So why install the machines, which can run anywhere from $30,000 to $35,000 apiece? Imad acknowledges "it is going to take a long time to pay them off, based on the sales so far."
"I am a small-business man, always looking to give my customers something more," said Imad, whose small stores at the three service stations also sell food imported from Poland, Russia and Lebanon for the small immigrant communities representing those countries, including workers who come for the summer only.
"You can sell to niche markets. It brings people into your business," he said.
In Massachusetts the discounted price for roll-your-own cigarettes is the result of a difference in state taxes on loose tobacco and commercially produced cigarettes. When the Legislature increased the cigarette tax in 2009, it neglected to include an increase on loose tobacco. The federal tax on tobacco is the same whether it is loose or commercially prepared, used for cigarettes or pipes.
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