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Penalties may increase for illegal cigarettes

People may not know that they are committing theft crimes when they buy cigarettes down south and bring them back to New Jersey.  However, having untaxed smokes in the state is illegal, and has been for many years. If the state legislature has its way, the penalties for the offense of "smuggling" cigarettes will become even greater.

New Jersey law requires packages of cigarettes to be stamped to show that taxes have been paid. It is illegal to possess or sell cigarettes without the stamp.

The bill under consideration would make possession of up to 20,000 unstamped cigarettes a fourth-degree offense. Possessing more than 20,000 unstamped smokes would be a third-degree crime.

Furthermore, it would be a third-degree crime to possess any counterfeit cigarettes with fraudulent names, trademarks or designs of legitimate tobacco companies - even if you bought them

You may think that buying a few cartons of cigarettes when driving back from Myrtle Beach is not a big deal, but it is, and it could be even bigger if the bill passes.

Illegal cigarettes have long been a feature of life in New Jersey. A 2008 report by the state Treasury Department found that 40 percent of all cigarettes smoked in New Jersey were smuggled in without paying state taxes. The report estimates that more than $500 million in tax revenue is lost every year.

The report, which was not released until 2011, found that New Jersey has more smuggled cigarettes than any other state, in part because of its high tax on cigarettes. Another reason cited by the report is Interstate 95, the main north-south highway, which runs the length of New Jersey and provides easy access to tobacco-producing states with low taxes.

If it passes, the law would increase fines and penalties for possessing cigarettes without the tax stamps

Source: NJ.com, "Crackdown on cigarette smuggling, counterfeit cigarettes advanced by Senate panel," by Christopher Baxter, Feb. 21, 2013.

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