Cuomo aims to crack down on illegal cigarette retailers

NY Capitol News

FILE – This Aug. 28, 2017 file photo shows cigarettes displayed on a store shelf in New York. With a new law enacted in December 2019, anyone under 21 can no longer legally buy cigarettes, cigars or any other tobacco products in the U.S. It also applies to electronic cigarettes and vaping products that heat a liquid containing nicotine. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Governor Andrew M. Cuomo set forth health and public safety proposals that take on smoking in his State of the State address on Wednesday.

Retailers who illegally sell cigarettes would face stronger fines and penalties like potential closures. These consequences apply to retailers selling to those under 21 or trafficking in untaxed, out-of-state tobacco for resale in New York.

Crooked retailers often evade New York City’s aggressive cigarette tax rate by importing cheaper products across state lines. Added to possibly shuttering their businesses, violators could also lose accompanying licenses for lottery, liquor, wine, and beer sales. According to Cuomo, these repercussions would discourage those who simply incorporate fines into their budgets as a cost of doing shady business.

Retailers currently must register with the Department of Taxation and Finance, who—after tripling their inspections since November—would enforce closures and revoke licenses under new procedures. Cuomo also proposes increasing minimum fines for selling tobacco and e-cigarettes to underage customers from $300 to $1000. Repeat offenders would lose their registration for one year instead of the present six-month period.

Dealing in untaxed tobacco destabilizes the competitive market for compliant retailers and depletes the state’s coffers of potential funding. Because interfering with local attempts to regulate prices weakens the push to stop smoking, Cuomo’s proposal returns those lost revenues to enforcement agencies and public health initiatives.

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