Because of recent tax increases, cigarettes currently cost approximately $9 a pack in New York city. On the other hand, they cost roughly $3 a pack when purchased at Indian reservations on Long Island. For years, New Yorkers have used reservations to help fund their habits by purchasing cartons of cigarettes, either in person or via the internet. The recent tax hike, however, has made cigarette smuggling an easy and relatively safe way to make a lot of money.
According to a recent report, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is currently investigating over 300 smuggling rings that are purchasing cigarettes from Indian reservations or southern states with lower taxes and reselling them in New York City. Some of these smugglers supposedly have links to Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda.
In an opinion piece in the New York Post, Congressman Peter King (R-NY) cited the case of cigarette smuggler Mohamad Hammoud, who allegedly made $8 million from 2000-2002 and donated $100,000 to Hezbollah. Congressman King noted that the operational cost of the 9/11 airstrikes was approximately $500,000, a sum that could be generated with only a few cigarette runs. Of course, from the perspective of international terrorists, this is a win/win situation: if the Camels don't get ya, the fundamentalists will.
While I'm sure that cigarettes will end up bearing the brunt of outrage over this issue, it might be a good idea to look beyond the obvious. Congressman King is calling for a repeal of the "forebearance" that allows Indian reservations to sell cigarettes without charging tax. As a student of history, I feel like we've cheated the Indians enough, but I agree that something must be done about this. May I humbly suggest that we stop using cigarette taxes as a way of dictating our health policy, try to treat smokers like humans and, perhaps, find another way of filling our public coffers?
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. As a former smoker, he doesn't like the smell of cigarettes, but tries to not be a jerk about it!