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Thursday, October 20, 2011


In our chapters on federalism and economic policy, we discuss "butt-legging," the practice of buying cigarettes in low-tax states and illegally reselling them in high-tax states. CBS reports:

Tobacco products face varying levels of taxation in different locations, creating opportunities and incentives for illicit trade. Cigarettes are taxed at the federal, state, and in some cases, local levels. According to industry representatives, taxes and other fees make up significant components of the final price of cigarettes, averaging 53 percent of the retail price. While the national average retail price of a pack of cigarettes was $5.95 in 2010, in New York City, a pack can cost up to $13.00 or more due to high combined state and city taxes. In contrast, a pack of cigarettes in Richmond, Virginia, can cost approximately $5.00, due to low state cigarette taxes there. The tax differential between a case of cigarettes (typically containing 12,000 cigarettes) in New York City and Richmond is over $3,000, creating incentives for illicit trade and profits. Excise taxes and other fees on tobacco products can be evaded at numerous points in the supply chain. Law enforcement officials told us another incentive to engage in this activity is the fact illicit tobacco penalties are comparatively less severe than other forms of illicit trade. According to experts we spoke with and literature we reviewed, a wide range of schemes are used by different actors to profit from illicit trade in tobacco products, mainly through the evasion of taxes. Schemes can range from individual consumers purchasing tax-free cigarettes from Internet Web sites, to larger-scale interstate trafficking of tobacco products, to smuggling cigarettes into the country by criminal organizations.

Also see a Justice Department report on the topic.