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Locals Joins The Roll-Your-Own Revolution

A mini tax revolt by smokers is sweeping across the nation as the price of smokes keeps soaring.

It's a big movement back east and has now come to California. It's the "roll your own" revolution.

Business is booming at Yuba City's "Roll Your Own" tobacco shop. Customers are happy. Regular customer Gary "G-Man" Jackson quips, "Roll your own. You can't beat it."

Here's how it works. Customers buy loose pipe tobacco and cigarette tubes, then put them into a $30,.000 dollar cigarette making machine. In seconds, the machine automatically spits out finished cigarettes, about four to six cartons an hour.

For Jackson it's all about saving money.

"Down at the grocery store, you pay $54 a carton," he said. "You pay $24.99 here. That's half price."

And, says fellow customer Phil, "For the cheaper price, you still get a premium cigarette."

Customer Nancy Howard adds, “Things are tight and when you have to work for room and board, you get cheap things everywhere. The cheaper the better."

Tom and Christine Oakes, owners of the "Roll Your Own" Tobacco Shop, are at the heart of a battle over taxes and whether the shop is or is not a highly taxable cigarette factory.

"We're not considered a factory because your renting our machines," co-owner Christine Oakes said.

But the U.S. Treasury Department ruled last September that it was cigarette manufacturing. Therefore, in the Department's opinion, the "Roll Your Own" Tobacco Shop is subject to the same taxes as the likes of RJ Reynolds and Phillip Morris pay. That would be a $1.01 per pack and most of the taxes are used to finance health insurance for impoverished children.

However, a Federal Court has put a temporary injunction on taxing these roll your own operations. This issue: is it fair taxation or just another desperate government attempt to get more money?

Customer Phil Carson said, "You can't price an addiction out of the market."

Shop owner Oakes added, "The people need the product and it's kind of hard if you can't quit smoking cigarettes."

As much as people object to smoking cigarettes, the fact of the matter is that it's a legal product. More and more people are saying smoking cigarettes now costs so much money, they just have to roll their own.

The "Roll Your Own" movement is growing.

"I've already told them, they need to get another machine because I've come in here when there's people settin', waitin', for over an hour," Jackson said.

Meanwhile, over at Vacaville's Tobacco Leaf Shop, the rolling your own goes one step further according to employee Sherif Amin who said they sell pipe tobacco, cigarette tobacco and tobacco leaves.

Pipe tobacco, used in most roll your own shops, is taxed at one ninth of cigarette tobacco. Tobacco leaves are not considered tobacco products until they're shredded and are not federally taxed. Customers make their cheap cigarettes here as well, Amin said.

"We sell our tobacco leaves to the customers the customers buy it and use our shredders," he said. "Then, it's the customer's job to turn them to cigarettes."

Customers do that by using small, manual machines the shop purchases for $500. For his customers, Amin said it's also about the price.

"It makes sense to roll your own and save two thirds of the amount that you’re gonna pay in a store," he said.

Both shops said most customers have very little money.

"Older customers like between 60 and 70 years old that's mainly my clientele," Amin said.

Christine Oakes of Yuba City's "Roll Your Own" Tobacco Shop said her main customers are low income, fixed incomes and homeless."

Anti-smokers rail against these and all tobacco shops. They complain that many customers will end up with serious health problems taxpayers fund, money that should come from the smokers themselves.

Until there is a final ruling on if and how "Roll Your Own" smoke cigarettes shops are taxed, this is how many smokers are getting cheaper cigarettes.

The alternative, bootlegging, where criminals profit and the government gets nothing.

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