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New tobacco store opens

Store Manager Dave Young checks some of the Discount $mokes tobacco to make sure it's dry enough. It has to be monitored because if it's too moist or too dry, it won't work when it's put into the "roll-your-own-smokes" machine. <i>Gretta Stark photo</i>

A new store opened Monday at 703A N. Main St. that will sell tobacco products at a discount.

Discount $mokes will sell five types of tobacco, and three types of tubes. The store will also offer cigarette cases, chewing tobacco, humidors and discount cigars.

The store is run by Dave Young, the store manager, and owned by Kent Burnstad. Burnstad said he wanted to have a store in the northern Wisconsin market.

He and Young went store-hunting in the area, and found the store available on North Main Street. When they found out a liquor store was opening next door, Burnstad said that cemented his decision to open the store in that building in River Falls.

Burnstad is from Tomah. Young lives in Hammond but will be moving closer to River Falls to be closer to the store.

There is some controversy surrounding this type of store, because the reason their products can be discounted is due to a loophole in tobacco tax laws.

Discount $mokes customers use a machine to roll their own products, called "smokes." Store workers cannot have any part in making the smokes other than instructing the customer in the use of the machine.

If they did, the customers wouldn't be making the smokes themselves, and the taxes on the product would rise significantly.

The current tax, according to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue website, on 20 cigarettes is $2.52. Federal tax is $1.01 per pack.

Taxes on Discount $mokes' products are less because they are made by the customer.

"Basically, we rent the machine to the guests, they rent the tobacco from us, they buy the tubes, we show them how to do it," said Burnstad.

Customers to Discount $mokes choose the tobacco and tubes they want. An attendant shows the customer how to load the tubes and the tobacco into the machine.

The customers press a button on the machine, and the machine makes the smokes in eight to 10 minutes.

Burnstad and Young have recipes for tobacco mixes that are similar to the mixes used in brand-name cigarettes and, Burnstad said, less harmful because the tobacco they sell doesn't contain the chemicals brand-name cigarettes do.

Burnstad said a friend of his was a heavy smoker who switched from brand names to smokes.

"He'd get up in the morning, smoke a cigarette. He never ate breakfast. After three weeks of smoking these, he goes, 'I can't believe it, I can eat breakfast now,'" said Burnstad of his friend.

While the smokes may be less harmful than brand name cigarettes, Burnstand and Young acknowledge that smoking can still be harmful.

Their machine carries the surgeon general's warning on the dangers of smoking.

Because Discount $mokes operates in a tax law loophole, Burnstad said he and Young have to follow the rules carefully.

In addition to ensuring that the customers are the only ones manufacturing the smokes, this means that Burnstad and Young cannot give out any free samples, and have to be careful with their words. They call their products "smokes," and they sell them in "boxes."

Customers pay $29.99 for a box of 200 smokes. Burnstad said smaller amounts of smokes will be available soon.

Burnstad now owns three Discount $mokes stores in River Falls, Hayward, and Richland Center.

Discount $mokes is open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

Devine coming soon

The City Council approved a liquor license at its April 14 meeting for Kristan Kimmes, agent of DeVine Liquor. She thought at the time that her store would open at 703 N. Main St. sometime in June.

Kimmes told the Journal in April that the store will specialize in wine and wine pairings.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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