Huge protests grip Syria; 6 killed in clashes

In this citizen journalism image made on a mobile phone and provided by Shaam News Network, Anti-Syrian President Bashar Assad protesters, hold up banners during a demonstration against the Syrian regime, in Kfar Nebel village near the the province of Edlib, northwest Syria, on Friday July 1, 2011.

Several retailers around the Lowcountry reported cartons of cigarettes flying off the shelves Wednesday, as smokers tried to stock up ahead of today's 50 cents-per-pack tax increase.

"Every other customer wants a carton," said clerk Patty Petteway at the Speedway/Sunoco on Ashley Phospate Road.

A common theme from buyers, she said, is that the government could eventually push the tax higher. "They are gonna get us, they are gonna to get us," she quoted some customers saying.

Lawmakers in the Statehouse this year passed the increase over Gov. Mark Sanford's veto, marking the state's first tax hike on smokes in 33 years. The now defunct 7 cents-per-pack tax had been the lowest in the nation.

Other stores in the area reported that some buyers didn't know the tax increase was coming. But some said sales were so brisk they had to enact limits on certain popular brands -- Newport, Camel and Marlboro.

"They're just buying cartons," said a clerk at the Circle K on Dorchester Road.

Anti-smoking advocates hope the per-pack price increase will discourage young people from smoking or smoking as much, and potentially reduce health bills.

Some businesses said their vendors gave them extra cigarettes in anticipation of a last-minute spike in sales. "I got cigarettes galore," said a clerk who would identify herself only as Debbie at a Kanagroo Express in Goose Creek.

She added that she expected a run later Wednesday night, as workers who get paid for the day come in and want to buy before the business closes and the cheaper sales end.

HOW THEY STACK UP

The federal cigarette tax is $1.01 per pack. On average, state cigarette taxes add $1.45 per pack. A look at the nation's (including the District of Columbia) highest and lowest state cigarette taxes, as of today:

1.) $4.35, New York

2.) $3.46, Rhode Island

3.) $3.025, Washington

4). $3.00, Connecticut

5.) $3.00, Hawaii

6.) $2.70, New Jersey

7.) $2.52, Wisconsin

42.) $0.57, South Carolina

45.) $0.45, North Carolina

46.) $0.44, North Dakota

47.) $0.425, Alabama

48.) $0.37, Georgia

49.) $0.36, Louisiana

50.) $0.30, Virginia

51.) $0.17, Missouri