Smokers are taking advantage of a new batch of stores popping up in the Bay area that offer customers a way to produce a carton of cheap cigarettes for half the price.
"What we are is a roll your own cigarette station," Tobacco Road manager Jacob Salazar said.
The store on 49th Street in St. Petersburg recently opened with five roll your own cigarette machines inside. It's the 10th Tobacco Road store to open in the Bay area in the past year, Salazar said.
Customers dump loose pipe tobacco in the top of the machine, and one-by-one individual rolled cigarettes online pop out of the bottom.
"They look just like a normal cigarette," Salazar said. "It's just minus all the chemicals that come with manufactured cigarettes."
It takes eight minutes to produce a carton or 200 rolled cigarettes. The cost is $25 -- about half what carton of Marlboros sells for at a convenience store.
"Well, today's economy, everybody is looking to try and save a penny," customer Matthew McNabb said. "So, if it takes me boxing up my own cigarettes to save some money, I'll definitely do it."
To keep it legal, customers must rent the machine, said Salazar, who stressed they do not sell cigarettes.
"Technically, we only sell tobacco and filters and the rental of the machine. Once it becomes a manufactured cigarette then there's all kind of other taxes involved," he said.
The Florida Division of Alcholic Beverages and Tobacco regulates the sale of loose tobacco.
"Establishments selling tobacco products to consumers are required to hold a retail tobacco products dealer license and the taxes are paid by the distributor," deputy communications director Beth Frady said.
The Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau ruled last year that businesses that use the machines in retail establishments "are defined as manufacturers under the Internal Revenue Code and must obtain the appropriate federal permit."
Some Ohio businesses filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ruling, and a judge issued a temporary restraining order.
The Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco is unable to provide a legal opinion on the businesses until that case is settled, Frady said.
Customers said as long as it's legal, they'll continue to roll their own.
"It tastes the exact same, you pay half the cost, makes sense to me," McNabb said.