Coalition Of Public Health Groups Endorse Legislation To Fight Cigarette Smuggling

William T. Stachowski

March 28, 2007

Albany, NY - Senator Dale M. Volker (R-C-I, Depew) announced today that a broad coalition of public health organizations have issued memoranda in support of a bill designed to stop the illegal sale of cigarettes in New York State.

The American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and American Stroke Association submitted formal statements of support. In addition, the national Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids has committed its support.

The bill (Senate bill S.1872-A, Volker/Assembly bill, A.6118 Gabruszak) is the most innovative initiative of its kind in the nation. This legislation is designed to give enforcement officers the funding and the tools they need to stop an illegal cigarette trade that expands and finances organized crime and terrorist operations around the world. The bill calls for the licensure of cigarette manufacturers, the creation of an anti-smuggling fund, the use of trackable cigarette tax stamps, and increased border security and enforcement measures to reduce illegal cigarette trafficking.

Healthcare funding dominates the debate on the State Budget. This important legislation addresses a black market cigarette industry that costs the state hundreds of millions of dollars in uncollected revenues. This legislation will recapture this much needed revenue, help to fund public healthcare programs and contribute to reduced smoking especially among children.

"Tax evasion and bootlegging cut the cost of cigarettes and encourage people to smoke," stated Peter Slocum, Vice President for Advocacy, American Cancer Society. "The high tech tax stamp can be an important tool in stopping contraband trafficking in cigarettes and, not incidentally, will help reduce the prevalence of cigarette use and the diseases cigarettes cause."

Paul Hartman, director of advocacy for the American Heart Association said, "Cigarette tax evasion is a serious economic and public health problem in New York. Higher cigarette taxes are the most powerful weapon in the effort to discourage tobacco use by children and adults." Hartman continued, "We are pleased to support Senator Volker and Assemblyman Gabryszak’s efforts to prevent cigarette tax stamp counterfeiting and to regain excise and sales tax revenues that are lost to the state as a result of such illegal actions."

Peter Iwanowicz, Vice President of the American Lung Association of New York State said, "By requiring the use of high tech cigarette tax stamps and providing resources for enforcement efforts, this bill will protect public health. Unfortunately, in New York State there a many avenues for unlawfully stamped cigarette packages to get into the hands of smokers. Thus, the health benefits of reduced consumption by adults are less than they should be as are efforts to prevent children from starting what will be for many, a deadly addiction to tobacco."

In addition to regional New York State advocacy groups, the national Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids is on board. "New York's current cigarette tax stamps are old-fashioned and out-of-date," said William V. Corr, Executive Director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "The legislation introduced by Senator Volker and Assemblyman Gabryszak would allow New York to take full advantage of available technologies to implement new high-tech tax stamps that cost-effectively increase revenues, fight contraband trafficking, and reduce state smoking levels. These efforts will deliver significant health and economic benefits for New York by preventing kids from starting to smoke and reducing smoking-caused harms and costs. It's difficult to imagine that anyone other than tax evaders, smugglers or illegal profiteers would oppose this legislation."

According to Senator Volker, chairman of the Senate Codes committee and former veteran police officer, "The health and safety of New York’s families is threatened by ruthless cigarette smugglers. From dangerous cigarettes illegally imported from China to international terrorists profiting from illegal cigarette smuggling rings, our homes and our families are threatened by this black market trade." Volker continued, "With the support of these heroic health organizations, New York is finally standing up to these smugglers and fighting back."

The 2005-06 Executive Budget Summary stated that 35 percent of cigarettes sold in New York State are not legally stamped by the State. The traffic of illegal cigarettes costs New York hundreds of millions in tax revenue every year. This legislation will not only help the state recapture lost cigarette tax revenue, but it will recapture sales tax revenue that will benefit all 62 counties around the state.