VA Trying to Curb Cigarette Smuggling - WSET.com - ABC13

VA Trying to Curb Cigarette Smuggling

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Lynchburg, VA - It's not just designer handbags or sunglasses you can pick up on the black market at a fraction of the price.

Smugglers are selling something much more profitable. According to a new study, Virginia is one of the largest suppliers of cigarettes sold on the black market.

All of it has to do with how cheap cigarettes are here in Virginia. We have the second-lowest cigarette tax of any state in the country. Smugglers buy cigarettes here, then drive a few hours north where they can make thousands and thousands of dollars on a single load.

"My son says people are selling them on the street corner. You just gotta know where they're at," Kathy Collins said behind the counter of Burley's Market where she works as a cashier.

Cartons and cartons of Newport and Marlboro cigarettes sell like hot cakes in the Big Apple because hundreds of miles away at Virginia convenience stores, you can get them at a fraction of the price.

The criminals are working in broad daylight.   Their crimes Virginia State Police say, are more lucrative than selling cocaine, heroin and even guns.

There's a lot of money to be made. Take New York City for example, where the average cost for a premium carton of cigarettes costs about $150 bucks.  In Virginia it's less than a third of that.

One option for lawmakers-- eliminate the incentive altogether by raising cigarette taxes in Virginia. Delegate Scott Garrett says he'll wait for the Virginia Crime Commission's report, expected to be released in November,  before deciding where he stands.

"Is simply raising the tax the solution to that? That's where I'm not entirely sure at all yet," Garrett said.

Virginia may actually be profiting from the black market because of the extra tax revenue it generates.  But, anywhere there's a black market, other crimes like burglaries often follow and legitimate businesses -- at least in high tax states -- lose profits to those made illegally.

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