A new federal law essentially banning roll-your-own cigarette machines has forced at least one local business to close up shop.
Craig Squires said he and partner Josh Winrich shuttered their Holy Smokes store at 4010 Mormon Coulee Road after losing about $5,000 in a month without the machine.
They hope to obtain a liquor license later this week to help keep their remaining North Side store at 1103 Rose St. viable, Squires said.
“We’re going to continue to operate,” he said, “but obviously, it’s a tough thing.”
They still can sell loose tobacco, papers and other materials for rolling cigarettes at home, Squires said. But not having the convenience of a machine on site that could crank out about 200 cigarettes in 10 minutes, for half the price of a major brands, is a major blow, he said.
The $105 billion federal transportation bill approved June 29 included an amendment reclassifying businesses with the machines as tobacco manufacturers, requiring permits costing thousands of dollars, health warnings on packs and payment of taxes on the cigarettes made.
The growing roll-your-own business had drawn protests from both sides of the tobacco issue. The cigarette industry complained roll-your-own vendors had an unfair advantage, while tobacco opponents argued the practice avoided higher prices intended to discourage smoking.
The vendors were willing to pay additional taxes, Squires said. “They didn’t want that,” he said. “They just wanted to shut us down.”
State inspectors already have been to his business to make sure the equipment is gone, he said.
It’s left Squires and his partner still paying on loans for three $35,000 machines now in storage, unusable and unsellable, he said. They opened the Rose Street store in April 2011, the South Side location six months later.
Wayne Johnson, a Holy Smokes owner in Holmen, could not be reached for comment. In an article in late June, he said his shop had cut back hours after shutting down the roll-your-own machine.
The owner of the Holy Smokes in Black River Falls said he and other roll-your-own shops in the area and nationwide may try to develop a system that legally allows the machines to operate.
“We’re making a product that’s affordable for people, for low and middle-income people to buy, and now they take them away from them,” Wayne Johnson said.
Squires said he’s heard talk of private citizens forming roll-your-own “clubs” that would take over the machines. He doesn’t have much faith in that happening but thinks his customer base will remain loyal enough to survive.
“If the community can continue to support us,” Squires said, “I believe we definitely can.”
Cassandra Colson of the Jackson County Chronicle contributed to this report.