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N.H. Tobacco Revenue Surges Amid Pandemic

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Exit Tobacco in Salem, New Hampshire says the demand is up for tobacco products.

Exit Tobacco is your typical smoke shop, offering everything from Marlboros to vapes.

Ziad Jabri, one of the managers, said the store, located right along the state's southern border in Salem, has always seen a steady stream of customers from Massachusetts, thanks to New Hampshire's lower tobacco tax. But this year, it’s gone through the roof.

“We were like going crazy,” he said.
The big driver for that growth Massachusetts' ban last year on flavored tobacco and flavored vapes, a move aimed at curbing youth tobacco use. Jabri said the demand right now is so strong, he can barely keep his shelves stocked with some products. 

While the pandemic has taken its toll on some of many sources of government revenue, the state's tobacco tax collections are surging right. It’s not just the Massachusetts ban that’s driving up sales in New Hampshire. Experts say the pandemic’s impact on daily life also appears to be spurring growth in tobacco use. 

“The biggest thing is the pandemic, the trigger, the stress trigger that could be a reason for the increase in sales,” said Dr. Sai Cherala with the state’s Bureau of Population Health and Community Services.

She said that while it’s never a good time to take up a smoking habit, it’s perhaps even worse right now because of tobacco’s negative health effects.

“There’s evidence that smoking increases susceptibility, especially for any respiratory infections," Cherala said. "Another big piece is it impacts the immune system, so their risk for COVID-19 is increasing." 

While heavier smoking rates are bad for public health in the long run, in the short run the state is benefiting from higher tax collections. Data from New Hampshire's Department of Revenueshow that between January and October of this year, the state collected $33 million more in tobacco taxes than during the same period last year - a 19 percent jump.

Lindsey Stepp, the department’s commissioner, said such a surge isn’t unique to New Hampshire.

“This is a trend we’ve been seeing across the country," Stepp said. "States are seeing increases, or at least not decreases, in tobacco revenue since the pandemic began.”

Her office is forecasting the strong tobacco sales to continue right through the spring. The state does offer several programs for anyone looking to quit smoking.

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