A local businessman is vowing to fight a federal law that has led to the closure of his Tampa Bay area roll-your-own cigarette shops, including the Tobacco Road location on Brandon Boulevard.
“As of this moment we are basically out of business,” said Sam Bontempo, of Largo, a partner in Good Times Pinellas. The company operates 13 roll-your-own stores in Central Florida, including in Brandon, at 948 West Brandon Blvd., one of the company’s most popular sites, Bontempo said.
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Roll-your-own stores offered smokers the chance to pick their own tobacco and use large machines to have the tobacco rolled into cigarettes. While it could take 10 minutes to sit and roll 200 cigarettes, the stores were popular with smokers for one reason: price.
While 10 packs (200 cigarettes) of Marlboro Lights can cost north of $60, 200 cigarettes at a roll-your-own store typically cost around $20-25.
“It was a little inconvenient but it was worth it for the price,” said Mary Ann Flower, who bought her smokes at the store for two years.
Under the new law, roll-your-own cigarettes will now be taxed at the same rate as brands like Newport and Marlboro, all but eliminating the roll-your-own market niche.
“It’s our customer who will now take it on the chin,” Bontempo said. “These are people who are unemployed or on a fixed income that cannot afford to pay $60 for a cartoon of cigarettes.”
Bontempo was left fuming after a federal transportation bill signed into law earlier this month contained a small amendment targeting roll-your-own tobacco businesses. Under the new law roll-your-own stores are now termed “tobacco manufacturers.”
Good Times has been in business two years and employs 55 people at 13 stores in New Port Richey, Holiday, Lakeland, Plant City, Largo, Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg, Zephyrhills and Tampa. Florida is home to some 80 roll-your-own stores, second only to Pennsylvania, according to Bontempo.
Bontempo and his attorneys now plan to file for injunction against the new law.
“At least so we can wind down out inventory and work out something with our leases,” said Bontempo who estimates he has $150,000 in unused tobacco.
The stores are still selling tobacco paraphernalia but their cigarette machines — their largest source of income — are closed.
“We would like to have at least some time to sell off the inventory and reach agreements with landlords. We have some leases that are for 1 and 2 years.”
The company also plans to join a national campaign against the new law which Bontempo estimate will impact 800 roll-your-own stores across the country.