About three months ago Daven Flax invested in his business, bringing in a $35,000 piece of equipment designed to help his customers save a little bit of money.


But for a month, his customers were not allowed to use the machine at the Tee Pee Smoke Shop. Kansas regulators shut down roll-your-own cigarette machines statewide.


About three months ago Daven Flax invested in his business, bringing in a $35,000 piece of equipment designed to help his customers save a little bit of money.

But for a month, his customers were not allowed to use the machine at the Tee Pee Smoke Shop. Kansas regulators shut down roll-your-own cigarette machines statewide.

“We had a choice to shut it down or not,” Flax said. “We made a bad choice and shut it down — but by relationship with (the Kansas Department of Revenue’s Alcoholic Beverage Control) is very important.”

Flax, who has owned Tee Pee on South Kansas Avenue for nearly 10 years, chose to not allow customers to roll cigarettes using the machine. He said the move didn’t hurt the business in Newton — but said that is probably because few people know about the machine.

It is back up and running now, as the company which makes the machines  and owners statewide prepare for legal action in the court system.

In other stores he owns, there are lines to use the device.

“I don’t think people realize what they can save here,” Flax said. “And that is why bought it.”

There are dozens of machines across the state — and some small shops which have little to no traditional cigarettes for sale in addition to the roll-your-own facility.

The Kansas Department of Revenue licenses the venues, which involve  machines that allow customers to convert bags of loose tobacco and boxes of unfiltered papers into cigarettes.

The Kansas State Fire Marshal has issued cease-and-desist letters noting a fire-safety law stipulating cigarettes rolled at commercial establishments had to use a type of paper that resists quick burn rates. Large cigarette manufacturing companies comply with the state's law by paying a $250 fee every three years to affirm laboratory testing demonstrated each brand and style of cigarette sold by those companies in Kansas were produced with paper treated to sharply reduce its capacity to start fires.

At the heart of the matter, it would seem, is if a smoke shop which rents the machines to customers are considered manufacturers — a legal battle which was fought in Connecticut and Wisconsin.  In both of those states, machine owners won their fights and stayed open.

“The law is clearly on our side,” said spokesman Casey Werderman for RYO Machine LLC, manufacturer of the machines. “Our retailers have formed a coalition of RYO Machine owners and they have filed suit against the state.”

 Werderman pointed out when regulators shut down the machines in Kansas, there was no court order to do so. It was simply done.

“They did this without any court order or authority,”  Werderman said.
Kansas regulators applied the safety standard only to operation of the rolling machines. There is no state law prohibiting individuals from rolling their own cigarettes.

In the smoke shop, customers must run the machine. They pay a fee, considered a rental, to have their smokes rolled — and they can save money.
“I hear the stories,” Flax said. “Customers who started smoking a name brand, then went to generics to small cigars because it’s what they can afford.”

When Flax started the shop nearly 10 years ago, the most popular name brand cigarette sold for 25.99 a carton. Now, the least expensive cigarette in his shop is more than $30 carton. For the same number of smokes, the roll-you-own price is just over $20.

The machines are up and running again, as regulators have stepped away and court proceedings start.

Flax, however, was cautious. Before plugging the machine back in or talking to the Kansan, he called the regulators.

“It is easier to get along with them than to but heads with them,” Flax said. “They have not been back and my relationship with them is very good.”