Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Maryland may be the No. 1 state in the country when it comes to cigarette smuggling, according to Michigan's Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a pro-markets think tank. Mackinac researchers compared legal cigarette sales with each state's actual level of smoking as shown by federal health surveys.With next-door Virginia taxing smokes at only 30 cents a pack, the Mackinac center calculates, as many as half of all cigarettes consumed in Maryland these days are illegal.
Maryland's smokers and smugglers save $17 a carton by driving south and loading up the trunk; a vanful could yield smugglers profits of $5,000, even after splitting them with retailers. Tobacco-smuggling busts roughly tripled in the first fiscal year after Maryland's tax went from $1 to $2 a pack. They're on track to equal those levels again this year. The Baltimore Sun's Jay Hancock reports that some dealers are switching from heroin and cocaine to tobacco because it's easier and just as lucrative.
"Lawmakers hoped to increase revenue and discourage smoking when it raised the tax," says Hancock. "People who supported the tax increase cheer what looks like an amazing plunge in Maryland smoking. But But they're looking only at official figures"