A little more than two centuries ago a group of rowdy colonists, angry at a 4% tax on tea, disguised themselves as Indians, boarded a ship and tossed the tea into the Boston Harbor.
New York State has just raised the tax on cigarettes to cover Yet Another Welfare Program, making our cigarette taxes the highest in the nation. It would be appropriate for a group of rowdy New Yorkers, angry at paying a 700% tax, to board the Capitol Building in Albany and toss the legislators into the Hudson River. The pollution would set the river's cleanup back a few years but it would be worth it to see the miscreants sinking slowly beneath the waves.
The colonists weren't angry about the tax, they were ticked at taxation without representation. Although today's smokers are more heavily taxed than anyone else, they have no representation. Big Tobacco has purchased a few congressweasels, but smokers themselves are simply ignored. It's time to emulate our forefathers and throw our own little tea party. This time, instead of flipping tea or legislators into the water, the appropriate response is to flip an obscene gesture toward Albany and cheat on tobacco taxes as much as possible.
Rather than dress up like Indians, smokers should visit Indian reservations. Reservations are considered sovereign countries (more or less) and are exempt from many taxes, including the punitive tobacco taxes smokers endure. With shipping, name brand smokes are available for about twenty-five dollars a carton. Generic brands are as little as twelve dollars. Smokers should also consider some of the brands made and marketed by Native Americans, such as Omaha. At twelve bucks a carton you can afford to experiment.
The quickest and easiest way to visit a reservation is through the Internet. You can, from the comfort of your home, point and click your way to tax-free smokes.
(Note: I don't smoke cigarettes, so can't vouch for any specific retailers. To Elliot Spitzer, the hyperactive Attorney General of New York State: If you feel that presenting this information is aiding and abetting criminal activity, please click here.)
An even more economical solution is to roll your own. Rolling a smoke by hand creates a cigarette that looks like a joint, not a good thing to be seen smoking in our nanny society. (Although in some places the fine for smoking marijuana is less than the fine for smoking tobacco.) The solution is rolling machines and kits that let you make standard looking cigarettes. Many of these kits don't actually roll the cigarettes, but stuff the tobacco into a paper tube. You can create a variety of sizes, make them filtered or unfiltered, and experiment with different blends of tobacco. It may take you a pack or two to get the hang of it, but once you do you can crank out a carton in an evening, while watching TV, for less than a dollar a pack. Smokers United offers a page packed with information and links to get you started.
Technically, rolling your own isn't a tea party because the supplies are available retail and are not heavily taxed. But if enough smokers start doing this you can be assured the politicians will implement punitive taxes on the bulk tobacco, the kits, the tubes, the box it comes in, the cellophane used to wrap the box and the ink used to print the instructions. Be ready to start ordering from Indian reservations and overseas suppliers when it happens.
Last year cigar smokers missed getting nailed by the "Cigars are Not a Safe Alternative" act, a federal bill introduced by several arrogant weasels with the sole purpose of putting cigar dealers out of business. It would have outlawed walk-in humidors, the hallmark of any good tobacco shop, made it illegal for anyone to examine a cigar before buying it, and made Internet and mail order sales illegal. The bill died in committee, but power-hungry miscreants are persistent, so we can expect to see more of their villainy next year. If they succeed, cigar smokers will have to order their cigars from other countries. Fortunately many merchants have developed their smuggling talents by sneaking Cuban cigars past customs to satisfy American's desire for the forbidden smokes. (It has been estimated that the US is the biggest consumer of Cuban cigars.) One word of caution about overseas dealers, especially if you're ordering forbidden fruit: there are some major rip-off artists out there. (None are quite as dishonest as our "representatives" are but then, who is?) Before sending money to any of them, search Dejanews to find messages about them on Usenet.
The fujipub server lists hundreds of cigar merchants, including many in the US who provide legal smokes at reasonable prices. If your state screws cigar smokers with high taxes this is a great way to get around them.
Should you feel guilty about "cheating" the government? Sure. You should feel exactly as guilty as they do about sucking your hard-earned money out of your pocket without even pretending to provide any representation.
California passed the punitive Meathead tax on tobacco products about a year ago. The referendum passed by a tiny fraction of a percent. Since then tobacco sales have dropped by 30% in the state, but smoking hasn't declined. There is even some evidence that smoking is rising among teens - the higher price and constant nagging has made smoking cooler, and coolness is the primary reason teenagers smoke. People are buying over the Internet, driving to nearby states and stocking up, and rolling their own. We can expect the exact same results in New York State. We can also expect legislators and nannies to whine about it. When they do, light up an Omaha, a homemade cigarette, or a Marlboro you bought for two bucks a pack. Then look them in the eye and laugh in their face. They brought it on themselves.
Addendum: Shortly after this article was published, California contacted every Internet cigarette mail order company they could find and demanded they hand over the name and addresses of anyone in CA who ordered cigarettes. They then took this list and used it to sock people with tax bills, huge ones in some cases.
Approximately 12% of the vendors they contacted cooperated, so the odds are in your favor, but the lesson here is to know who you are dealing with. You can expect they'll get better at pressuring and harassing these vendors. Be confident that your vendor won't cave if (when) miscreants from highly taxed states start making demands. Your best bet is Indian reservations. Because they are sovereign nations they can, and do, thumb their noses at state requests.
If you're not sure of a vendors policies, policies, ask.
Meathead responded to Proposition 28, which would have repealed his punitive cigarette tax, with outright lies.
© 2000 Dave Hitt
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