Smokers are feeling the pinch at the cash register and tobacco retailers are bracing for fewer sales.

The federal excise tax on cigarettes will jump from 39 cents a pack to $1.01 a pack on April 1. However, the prices have already gone up. Ron Leone with the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association says everyone hopes that tobacco manufacturers upped their prices in anticipation of the tax increase, however, no one can say. Retailers fear the prices may jump again on April 1. The problem with manufacturers prematurely raising prices, he says, is that they’re pocketing the profits before the tax even goes into effect.

He says cigarettes are an easy target for tax hikes and future increases are likely, but he says Missouri still has the lowest state excise tax in the nation, which drives revenue as customers come into Missouri from higher-tax bordering states such as Illinois and Kansas. (The Kansas legislature is considering a bill to increase their state tax on cigarettes even more this legislative session.)

Some of the federal excise tax money will trickle down into Missouri’s healthcare programs, such as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Jessica Machetta reports [Download/listen MP3]