Shop owners say 'roll-your-own' cig regulations will shut them down

July 5, 2012

(Flickr/Paul-Henri S)

Chicago-area businesses that let customers roll their own cigarettes say they'll go out of business if new federal regulations take effect Friday.

President Barack Obama is set to sign a federal highway bill into law Friday. But tucked inside the bill is a plan to regulate and tax roll-your-own tobacco shops the same as big tobacco companies.

Roll-your-own shops let customers bring their own tobacco and papers, then feed them into a high-tech machine that spits out rolled cigarettes. That used to be cheaper than brand name cigarettes, until a recent round of Cook County and state tax hikes.

Doug Hanen, who manages two roll-your-own tobacco shops in the Chicago area, said requiring a small business like his to meet strict federal environmental and permitting standards is not realistic.

"I gotta better chance of becoming the Queen of England than I do of getting a license to be a manufacturer," Hanen said.

Meanwhile, Nathan Ries said the roll-your-own machines at his suburban shops have been humming since early Thursday morning, as smokers are bracing for Friday's bill signing.

"There's probably a two- or three-hour - if not more - backup to get on these machines," Ries said.

Supporters of the roll-your-own crackdown say they're simply closing a tobacco tax loophole. The expanded tobacco tax is expected to bring the federal government $94 million over the next decade.