Brooke Duppstadt rolls a sample cigarette for a customer at Custom Blends in Spry last week. (John Pavoncello photo)
Brooke Duppstadt rolls a sample cigarette for a customer at Custom Blends in Spry last week. (John Pavoncello photo)
Mark Tucci said every day has been like a Y2K rush for supplies since a new law was passed that will raise the tax on roll-your-own tobacco by more than 2,100 percent.

Tucci owns 7 Valleys Custom Blends Farm Fresh Tobacco, which has two locations in York County. People have been rushing in since President Barack Obama signed the legislation on Feb. 4 to hoard pounds of loose tobacco before the price increases Wednesday.

Tucci's store is one of the area tobacco stores experiencing an influx of business as a result of the tax increase.

In addition to a 62-cent-per-pack jump in the price of cigarettes, the law will increase the loose tobacco tax from $1.10 per pound to $24.78 per pound.

Crowding into Tucci's York Township store Wednesday, his customers said the biggest reason they choose to roll their own cigarettes is the price.

The store sells 8-ounce bags of tobacco, which make about 13 packs of cigarettes, for about $15. Commercial pre-packed cigarettes generally cost more than $50 per carton of 10 packs.

After Wednesday, Custom Blends will switch to a 6- ounce bag -- enough for about a carton -- and sell it for about $20 per bag, Tucci said. Most of the cost of the product will be the tax, he said.

The legislation was adopted with the intent of raising money to expand health insurance programs form children.

The rush: Smoker's Outlet, 1636 W. Market St.


, is having a hard time keeping enough supply for the demand, said Ronda Barner, assistant manager.

People are buying several pounds of tobacco at a time, planning to store them until they need them, she said.

"At this point, some people are willing to smoke stale tobacco instead of paying twice the price for it," Barner said.

Tobacco isn't easy to keep fresh, she said. It likes a steady 70 degrees and should never be placed in a freezer or refrigerator because it dries out.

But people are snagging up what they can when they can, she said.

Orders from the wholesalers are spotty because there's a huge demand from many stores, she said.

The warehouse is shipping partial orders, or nothing at all, she said.

"We're running out of rolling machines," she said of the gadgets people use to roll cigarettes. "We ordered 30 on Tuesday and the order came in and there were none."

Rush is on: Tucci said business is "way up" over last year. People who typically come in to buy one or two bags are snatching up 10 or 20 bags at a time.

The store is ordering more tobacco more often, but it's not enough to keep up with the demand, he said. The rush has created a shortage of tobacco, and many of the customers who stopped in Wednesday were disappointed to find empty shelves instead of their blend of tobacco.

Jim Bell, 55, of Hallam, was looking for blend No. 2, which is comparable to Marlboros. Bell said he started to roll his own cigarettes last year to save money. But after he started smoking Custom Blends' additive-free tobacco, he realized he smoked less and liked the flavor more.

He said he's not surprised the government is increasing the tax; he figured it would happen sooner or later, when officials discovered people were switching to roll-your-own.

Still, he's disappointed and surprised it's increasing the tax by more than 2,100 percent.

"That amount of an increase in one shot is too much," Bell said.

Undeterred: Bell said he'll continue to roll his own; it will still cost a lot less and taste better than smokes from the big tobacco companies.

And Tucci said he's not worried about business after April 1. Only about half of his increase in business this year has been due to "hoarding" because of the tax, he said.

He got a lot of new customers when cigarette manufacturers were mandated to sell only fire-safe cigarettes. Customers complained the chemicals in the smokes made their throats hurt and gave them rashes, he said.

There are many customers who prefer to roll their own cigarettes because his tobacco is additive free, without the list of chemicals found in commercial cigarettes, he said.

And even after the tax takes effect, rolling cigarettes will cost about a third of the price of store-bought, he said.

-- Reach Christina Kauffman at 505-5436 or ckauffman@yorkdis