Government statistics indicate the cost of tobacco and smoking products has risen at more than four times the rate of inflation since 1996. In Minnesota, a pack of cigarettes can cost close to $5.
One way to avoid paying high prices for smokes is to steal them. Minneapolis police say over the last month, they've had about a dozen "crash and grab" robberies, where thieves ram a typically stolen car into a storefront, then dash inside to grab goods off the shelves.
In these crimes, Minneapolis Police Lt. Gregg Reinhardt says the thieves seem to be targeting cigarettes.
"A couple of stores they've smashed their way into are strictly tobacco stores. The other convenience stores that they've broken into, and they we have video surveillance of, they jump right to the cigarette counter, and they're either climbing over the counter or grabbing for those items," he said.
Reinhardt says the thieves aren't stealing the cigarettes to smoke, but rather to sell.
"A cigarette is basically instant cash. You can go into a number of businesses and just sell them outright. People will pay $10 a carton or maybe $20 a carton, a significant reduction of what you would pay for them when you purchase them legally. They've always been a commodity that is stolen," he said.
And there's always a market for stolen cigarettes. Just ask Sam Cocke of St. Paul.
Would I buy from a gangster for cigarettes? Yes I would, for the simple fact I can get them cheaper.Sam Cocke
"Would I buy from a gangster for cigarettes? Yes I would, for the simple fact I can get them cheaper. I can buy a pack of cigarettes from the mob for $2 or $3 for a pack of regular cigarettes. Where I have to go to the store for my brand, Marlboro, I pay five bucks a pack and that's getting ridiculous."
When smokers spend $4 to $5 a pack for cigarettes in Minnesota, a good chunk of that price is taxes and fees.
There's the recently-upheld 75-cent health impact fee, a 48-cent state excise tax, 26 cents in state sales tax,plus 39 cents for federal taxes. That's $1.88 in taxes for each pack of cigarettes. The rest of the price includes manufacturers' costs and profits, and retail and wholesale mark-ups.
Critics say cigarette taxes hit low-income people disproprtionately: they're more likely to smoke and the taxes take up a bigger portion of their income.
Anti-smoking activists say the higher cost, the less people will smoke. The economics can be persuasive. The cost of a one-week supply of nicotine patches at Walgreens is now cheaper than buying a pack of brand-name cigarettes every day. But that math doesn't work for everyone.
"I've tried to quit smoking, it ain't gonna work. It ain't gonna work because everyone around me smokes," said Melanie Anderson of St. Paul.
She says neither the nicotine replacement gum nor the patch helped. Given their cost, she says it's still cheaper for her to smoke than try to quit. But she still thinks her habit costs too much.
"It makes me want to go to cheaper cigarettes, actually," she said.
The increase in the price of cigarettes isn't just hitting smokers in the wallet -- it's hurting some tobacco shops, too. Some tobacco store owners say smokers who used to buy three or four cartons at a time have cut back to one or two.
Some say they don't see some of their customers at all anymore, since many are now buying their cigarettes online or through mail-order houses to save money. Others are going to Canada or other states, where the taxes are lower.
One shop owner quoted a tobacco distributor who said there are businesses just across the border in Wisconsin that used to sell about 400 cartons a week that are now selling 2,000 a week.