- Days left

Up in smoke: New York cigarettes hit $9 a pack

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post in which I mentioned New York's plans to raise taxes on cigarettes. Well, the bill passed, and cigarettes are now $9 a pack in New York City. While this is sure to increase tax revenue in the short run, it's not hard to see how it will backfire.

The first negative side effect is the fact that it will encourage criminal behavior on the part of ordinarily law-abiding citizens. According to a report by the Independent Budget Office, earlier tax increases led to massive growth in the purchases of illegal cigarettes. In fact, in 2006, 27% of NYC smokers and 34% of upstate smokers purchased "under-taxed" cigarettes. Now that the taxes on a pack of cigarettes have more than doubled, those figures are expected to skyrocket.
One of the easiest ways to get "under-taxed" cigarettes is through Indian reservations. For example, the Poospatuck Indian Reservation, located just 60 miles outside of New York City, is a major source for tax-free smokes, and its website, "The Original Poospatuck Smoke Shop and Trading Post," is primarily a portal for ordering tobacco products (although it also offers moccasins and coffee). The Poospatucks take their tax free smokes pretty seriously, stating that "[We were] a leader in the fight to protect the sovereignty of Unkechaug Nation lands. We are proud of our contribution to the struggle and will continue to resist any attempt to charge, collect or impose any duty on our territory. This is not just about cigarettes or gas, this is the lawful exercise of Sovereignty [...] The consumer who purchases from our site not only buys at a great discount, but also makes a statement about protecting the rights and obligations of our people."

Cheap smokes and a political statement? Hell, sign me up!

For the less politically motivated addicts, there are also internet sites that will sell cigarettes at a considerable discount and ship them to New York addresses. Although these sites are of questionable legality, enforcement is very difficult.

Governor Spitzer worked with credit card companies and postal regulators to reduce the impact of online retailers, but it's not too hard to circumvent the law on this one. Similarly, it's pretty easy to buy a trunkload of cigarettes while on vacation in Virginia or South Carolina. With the rising taxes, this sort of low-level smuggling will probably skyrocket, given the fact that it is a quick and relatively safe way to make a lot of money. It's not hard to imagine cash-strapped yuppies trying out bootlegging, particularly when a couple of runs could cover a semester's college tuition, a set of braces, or half a tank of gas.

Of course, the biggest source of cheap cigarettes will be hijackers, and therein lies another major downside to the tax hike. Historically, Prohibition was the greatest gift that the United States ever gave to organized crime. Prior to that, the mafia was largely composed of low-scale thugs involved in numbers running and prostitution, but the influx of cash from smuggled liquor gave them a big boost of adrenalin and laid the groundwork for their later expansion into unions and narcotics. Even now, it's not hard to find cigarettes that "fell off the truck." In fact, "fell off the truck" is the major cigarette retailer in my neighborhood, where I'm constantly bugged by guys selling loose packs of Newports.

By the way, can anyone tell me why Newports are the official cigarettes of the inner city?

While they may bring in a little cash flow, New York's recent tax decisions are going to put a lot of wear and tear on law enforcement in the city. Furthermore, as anti-smoking lobbyists are pushing these sorts of laws across the country, it's not hard to imagine a whole new era of bootlegging and smuggling.

Welcome to 1920!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. While he doesn't really believe that the 1920's will return, he is hoping that the fedora will make a comeback.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Intro to different retirement accounts

What does it mean to have a 401(k)? IRA?

View Course »

Intro to Retirement

Get started early planning for your long term future.

View Course »

TurboTax Articles

Video: Tax Guidelines About Gifting

Note: Some of the content of this video applies only to taxes prepared prior to 2012. It is included here for reference only. Find out the tax guidelines about gifting with help from TurboTax in this video on tax tips.

Video: What are Income Tax Rates?

Note: The content of this video applies only to taxes prepared for 2010. It is included here for reference only. Income tax rates change depending on both the amount of money you make and how you made it. Find out about income tax rates with help from TurboTax in this video on tax tips.

Video: How To Reduce Errors on Your Tax Return

Did you know that errors on your tax return can affect the amount of your tax bill and the amount of time it takes to get a refund? Fortunately, TurboTax helps you avoid errors AND be sure you're getting all the tax deductions and credits you deserve.

Does Your Company Need to File Form 1095-B?

A company is responsible for filing IRS Form 1095-B only if two conditions apply: It offers health coverage to its employees, and it is "self-insured." This means that the company itself pays its employees' medical bills, rather than an insurance company. A company that doesn't meet both conditions won't have to deal with Form 1095-B. Its employees might still receive a 1095-B, but from their insurer, not the employer.

Video: Who Qualifies for an Affordable Care Act Exemption (Obamacare)?

The Affordable Care Act requires all Americans to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. But, who qualifies for an Affordable Care Act exemption? Find out more about who qualifies for an exemption from the Affordable Care Act tax penalty, how to claim an exemption on your tax return and how the Affordable Care Act may affect your taxes with this video from TurboTax.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum