Cigarette Smuggling Makes Nanny State Taxes Go Up in Smoke

Prohibition is creating a tobacco black market in Washington state.

The state of Washington has a smuggling problem, exacerbated by a large tax gap with its neighbors.

The state’s tax on cigarettes is $3.02 a pack, compared to $1.18 in Oregon and 57 cents in Idaho. In the border cities of Washington, the ease of hopping the state line for cheaper smokes is just too tempting for some.

Washington’s Department of Revenue estimates the state lost about $376 million in tax revenue in 2012 to cigarette tax evasion. An estimated 35 percent of the cigarettes in Washington are contraband.

So who is doing it and how are they getting away with it?

Take Spokane, where officers of the Washington State Liquor Control Board recently busted two shops for selling cigarettes without the Washington tax stamp.

Lt. Rod Mittman of the liquor board’s enforcement division explained to Northwest Watchdog the process used by two stores that recently got caught selling smuggled cigarettes.

Step 1: Drive 20 miles to Idaho

Step 2: Buy 444 packs of cigarettes (the number of cigarette cartons confiscated by liquor control board officers)

Step 3: Remove Idaho state tax stamp

Step 4: Sell cigarettes tax free, in the open, as if nothing were amiss (“It was all out in the open,” Mittman said)

Step 5: This step depends on the luck of the store: you either get away with it or you don’t.

In the case of Bongs Grocery and Deli and the Super C Store, a citizen complained, leading to an investigation and criminal citation and confiscation of the smuggled cigarettes. Stores that smuggle cigarettes also risk losing their administrative license to sell tobacco, Mittman said.

Representatives from Bongs and Super C could not be reached for comment.

High cigarette taxes, intended to discourage the unhealthy habit and raise state revenue, have created a black market for cigarette sales across the country — from people sneaking cartons from states with lower taxes to a crime-plagued industry fueled by an influx of international cigarettes costing as little as 20 cents per pack.

A study by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in January found cigarette taxes in some parts of the country are so high they create a “prohibition by price,” which has led to a spike in smuggling-related criminal activity. Mackinac found the black market grows as taxes rise.

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  • shamalam||

    "When asked if Washignton should lower its tax, Mittman said, “the disparity of the taxes adds to the problem.” But he added it would help if Oregon and Idaho raised their taxes because he doesn’t see Washington moving toward a decrease."

    It sure would help if our neighbors were as retarded and over bearing as we are.

  • Ted S.||

    Socialism means everybody is supposed to suffer equally.

    (Well, except for the public "servants".)

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    And the socialists have plenty of allies who don't even realize that they are into it too:
    In the case of Bongs Grocery and Deli and the Super C Store, a citizen complained, leading to an investigation and criminal citation and confiscation of the smuggled cigarettes.

    People ratting out the store because the store was not paying taxes to the proper sovereign. Just like in States with personal property taxes, where people without the proper tax sticker arrangements on their vehicles get tattled on to Da Man.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    Maybe this was one of the dew times a policeman was referred to as "citizen".

  • crufus||

    Seems more likely they were ratted out by a competitor.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    A deli called Bong's that evades cigarette taxes must be the coolest deli ever.

  • OldMexican||

    But he added it would help if Oregon and Idaho raised their taxes because he doesn't see Washington moving toward a decrease."


    It's always someone else's fault why socialism/social engineering/economic policy never works.

  • fredtyg||

    What's remarkable is very often people in the state's benefiting from the smuggling- Idaho and Oregon in this case- often go along with the raise taxes argument.

    I've read the argument more than once: "We're not charging nearly as much tax on cigarettes as they are. We should raise ours to match theirs". They don't realize they're already getting more money from the states with the higher taxes.

  • William of Purple||

    Didn't we have this discussion last night?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Bongs Grocery and Deli? They should get shut down for having that name.

  • Austrian Anarchy||

    Shut down? They are in Washington State, the name alone probably brings 30% of their walk-in traffic.

    Now for the issue of if it is a really bright idea to name your store that and sell tax reduced cigarettes there, or do anything else "illegal," that is another matter.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Yes, those things are good ideas.

  • np||

  • Almanian!||

    So what are you, Linnekin, Tuccille's shadow.

    This subject was barely interesting YESTERDAY, WHEN WE FIRST SAW IT.

    /bitchy hissy fit

  • Almanian!||

    OK, what's the Joe'z Law equivalent to "I mean Sebens"...

    /wrong article, idiot

  • GroundTruth||

    "But he added it would help if Oregon and Idaho raised their taxes because he doesn’t see Washington moving toward a decrease."

    Sort of like saying "Well, if you'd start beating your wife too, then I wouldn't look so bad when I beat mine."

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Whether or not sales taxes are acceptable with minarchist libertarianism is debatable, but all excise taxes are undebatably unlibertarian. Fucking flat sales tax or no sales tax.

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