Thursday, April 10, 2008

Albany's Smuggler Compact

The just concluded state budget has given the black marketeers a big reason to rejoice. As the NY Daily News reports this morning: "As part of the new state budget, the little cigars - which look just like cigarettes, except they are wrapped in brown paper that is partly made from tobacco - will be classified as cigarettes in New York starting June 3. That's the same day the state tax on a pack of cigarettes shoots up to $2.75, from $1.50 - making New York's levy on cigarettes the highest in the nation."

So now the incentives have escalated without any relief for the smuggling that has become endemic in New York-something that the former governor had promised to address but never did. The convenience stores that operate around or near the upstate Indian reservations-where untaxed smokes are sold with impunity-have been given a dagger to the heart of their businesses.

And downstate, where back-packed street corner salespeople proliferate in the city's poorer neighborhoods. the smuggling margins have been raised to windfall status. All of which leaves the anti-smoking advocates in a state of stupefied glee: "New York State is now the national public health leader in tobacco taxation," said Michael Seilback, policy director for the American Lung Association's state chapter."

Once again, those who say that they stand for the health of New Yorkers, fail to stand for the health of the neighborhood stores; businesses that provide for the sustenance of the people whose health would certainly be in jeopardy without real employment opportunities. Watch out for another spike in street violence as smugglers (really street vendors; maybe the mayor will license them?) fight for territory.