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Obama’s Signature Expected To Doom Cheap Cigarette Shops

(Las Vegas CBS KXNT)   When congress passed the federal highway bill, lawmakers also voted to shut down hundreds of shops where smokers can get a carton of cigarettes for half price by rolling their own.  The shops will close on Friday when the bill becomes law with President Obama’s signature.

The new law redefines as cigarette manufacturers establishments that have “roll-your-own” machines, subjecting them to a regulatory scheme that would apply to R. J. Reynolds, for instance, and making their current operations illegal.  The law was added as a provision of the highway bill, says Jim Girard of the Tap House in Las Vegas, after a national group of roll-your-own shops won a lawsuit claiming that they provide a service, and do not manufacture a product.

Girard blames “big tobacco” lobbyists, representing an industry he says was determined to put the roll-your-own players out of business.

The shops call themselves “RYO filling stations.”  Customers purchase loose tobacco, paper tubes, and filters, and then pay a small fee to use an automated rolling machine. The machine cranks out a carton of cigarettes in 8 minutes, and saves the customer $20 or more per carton.

The smoke shop in Girard’s Tap House on Charleston was busy this week, as customers stocked up in anticipation of the closings.  Girard, who is also a distributor of  the RYO machines,  says the customers aren’t the only losers.  He has two RYO employees — one who runs the smoke shop and another who maintains machines in the 27 Nevada and Montana shops where he’s placed them.  Each of those shops has at least two employees, some have as many as four, and there are hundreds more nationwide.  Those jobs are in jeopardy, he told KXNT.

Girard likened the situation to the Nevada smoking ban that forced tavern owners to choose between serving food and allowing patrons to smoke.  Many of the businesses were cripled when they closed their kitchens, and some went out of business.

The RYO machines cost $32,500.  Many of the retailers who bought them have not yet had time to recoup that investment, Girard said.  The RYO shops nationwide are seeking an injunction, and will launch an effort to repeal the law.

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