Tobacco smuggling drawing police attention in Virginia

Cigarettes are the largest source of illegal drug smuggling in America. Legislators and law enforcement are taking notice.

While it isn't news that cigarettes are highly taxed in some states, it may be surprising to some that cigarette trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. A recent study by one tobacco company found that about half of all cigarettes sold in New York City come from out of state, to avoid New York's high tax on tobacco products. Much of those cigarettes come from Virginia, where a pack of cigarettes can cost about half as much as in New York City.

The disparate tax treatment has created a large trafficking business that has caught the attention of state legislators. Lawmakers charged the Virginia State Crime Commission to study the issue in 2012. In 2014, the Crime Commission reported to Congress how cigarettes are smuggled out of the state, documented its financial impacts on Virginia, and reported to legislators how to apprehend cigarette traffickers.

Among their proposals, the Virginia Crime Commission is seeking to force cigarette sellers to obtain licenses, as well as put the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control in charge of monitoring cigarette sales. If anyone buys 50 cartons of cigarettes or more, it would be recorded on a special form. The commission has also recommended preventing people convicted of cigarette trafficking in any other state from selling tobacco in Virginia.

As yet these measures are still proposals. It is not clear if any will become enacted in their current form.

However, law enforcement is already taking proactive measures to apprehend cigarette smugglers. For example, Virginia law enforcement officials and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have set up fake businesses across Virginia in order to apprehend cigarette traffickers. At least 40 people have been arrested through this method, according to a recent town hall meeting meant to educate the public about cigarette smuggling in King George County.

The press has also reported cigarette trafficking involves associated crimes, including theft, violent crimes, and organized criminal activity. However, it is not clear how much of a role other crimes or crime organizations play in tobacco smuggling. It is often cited by officials and lawmakers as a reason to combat trafficking, however.

Accused of smuggling cigarettes?

Virginia has increased the penalties on tobacco smuggling in recent years. In addition, those accused of cigarette trafficking may face a host of state and federal charges, including charges related to smuggling, such as theft, fraud and conspiracy.

If you have been charged with cigarette smuggling or crimes associated with cigarette smuggling, there is a lot at stake. To protect your rights, contact The Law Office of Louis K. Nagy, PLC, Virginia attorneys with experience representing criminal defendants against serious state and criminal charges.

Keywords: Tobacco smuggling, tobacco trafficking, illegal trafficking, criminal law, criminal defense.