State governments (and the District of Columbia) desperate for ways to increase revenues, recently have discovered a new target — smokers who puchase cigarettes in other states, or from Indian reservations, that have lower tobacco taxes. In fact, some states are becoming so aggressive in their pursuit of these monies that they have begun levying liens against people’s homes in order to collect back taxes and fines.
With tobacco taxes in many states skyrocketing — Rhode Island is the highest at $3.46 per pack — heavy smokers who try and escape the burdensome taxes by purchasing their smokes elsewhere, are being hit with multi-thousand dollar bills. One 82-year old lady in Pennsylvania, for example, had a $4,583 lien slapped on her house, as a result of her apparently extensive purchases of cigarettes from an Indian tribe in neighboring New York. Although an official with Pennsylvania’s revenue department was quoted as saying the state’s primary focus in using liens to collect monies from cigarette-tax scofflaws was to “educate” citizens about their tax responsibilities, the lure of additional tax revenues in tough economic times obviously trumps any kindly “educational” purpose.
The ability of state governments to monitor the internet, which is the vehicle most people utilize to purchase cigarettes from other states or Indian reservations, has made it much easier for governments to identify interstate cigarette purchasers. States are further aided in this effort by a federal law (of course), that requires tobacco sellers to report out-of-state customers to the buyer’s state tobacco administrator. And, as if filing a lien against one’s home was not sufficient punishment for a person daring to save a few dollars by purchasing cigarettes in another state, New York, for example, can put a person in jail if they are convicted of the heinous offense of possessing a carton of cigarettes that does not bear the Empire State’s revenue stamp.
Isn’t it wonderful to live in a free country?