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Last Updated on: 19th October 2023, 07:45 pm
New York has the highest cigarette taxes in the United States at $4.35 per pack statewide plus an extra $1.50 in New York City. This totals $5.85 in taxes per pack in NYC. For comparison, the average tax nationwide is only $1.88 per pack. This huge tax differential incentivizes smuggling.
Over the past few decades, New York has raised cigarette taxes repeatedly as a method to discourage smoking for health reasons. However, this has backfired by fueling a rampant black market in cigarette smuggling. Every tax hike makes smuggling even more profitable.
New York’s cigarette smuggling rates have risen 190% since 2006 while the tax rate has also increased 190%. The data shows a direct correlation between tax hikes and increased smuggling.
Smugglers buy cigarettes in bulk in southern states like North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia where cigarette taxes are low. A pack of cigarettes costs around $5 in those states compared to $10-15 in New York.
They transport the cigarettes up Interstate 95 in vans, trucks, and other vehicles to New York. A single van can transport up to 50 cases of cigarettes, representing a huge profit potential.
Once in New York, the smugglers sell these bootlegged cigarettes covertly. They deliver to bodegas, smoke shops, and street sellers who don’t charge customers the required $5.85 in taxes. Sometimes they use counterfeit tax stamps to try to make the cigarettes appear legitimate.
For smugglers, a single trip can yield thousands in profits. This makes the risk of getting caught worthwhile despite the stiff penalties under New York law. Some small-time smugglers even make daily trips.
Under Section 1814 of the New York Tax Law, cigarette smuggling and other tobacco tax crimes carry felony charges and substantial penalties:
In addition to jail time, those convicted often have to pay heavy fines and forfeit any vehicles used for smuggling. But profits remain so high that smugglers consider it a cost of doing business.
New York authorities have stepped up efforts in recent years to combat rampant cigarette smuggling.
The New York Sheriff’s Office conducts stings to catch smugglers bringing cigarettes into New York City from out of state. The State Department of Taxation and Finance’s Cigarette Strike Force also investigates illegal tobacco trade.
Local district attorneys aggressively prosecute cases under the Tax Law. In some major busts, millions in cash and assets have been seized from smugglers.
But due to the sheer scale of cigarette smuggling, authorities have been unable to make a real dent in the problem. Unless New York lowers its cigarette taxes, high smuggling rates will likely continue.
Some experts argue New York should lower its cigarette tax to combat smuggling. This would reduce the profitability of smuggling and bring cigarette taxes more in line with other states.
But supporters of the high tax say it has helped lower smoking rates and saved lives. They warn a tax cut could reverse progress New York has made against smoking.
Ultimately, New York faces a tough balancing act. The state wants to discourage smoking but also needs the cigarette tax revenue. There are reasonable arguments on both sides of this complex issue.
Regardless, cigarette smuggling remains a growing threat to New York’s finances. State leaders will have to take creative new approaches to crack down on the illegal cigarette trade.
Through a combination of ideal geography and sky-high cigarette taxes, New York has become the cigarette smuggling capital of America.
Booming smuggling costs New York billions annually and enriches criminals. So far, authorities have been unable to stop this black market trade.
As smuggling continues to rob the state of tax money, leaders will face pressure to combat the problem more effectively. But simple solutions remain elusive.
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