Agents seize nearly 1,200 cartons of cigarettes along state lines
NASHVILLE (AP) — Revenue agents have seized nearly 1,200 cartons of cigarettes since launching heightened enforcement along state lines in late September, the department announced Monday.
State law limits the number of cigarettes each person can bring in from out of state to two cartons. There are 10 packs in each carton.
The increased enforcement comes after the state in July hiked the tax on each pack of cigarettes from 20 cents to 62 cents. Taxes are lower in all eight neighboring states. Missouri and Mississippi have the two lowest taxes in the nation, at 18 and 17 cents, respectively.
Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr announced on Sept. 21 that revenue agents would monitor tobacco retailers just over state lines to spot and seize cigarettes from anyone bringing in more than the two cartons.
Agents seized about 900 cartons of cigarettes in October and about 288 cartons after launching the program in September.
Department of Revenue officials released seizure information after previously denying an Associated Press records request how many cigarettes had been taken. The department said it will now release the number of cigarette seizures every month.
Under state law it is a misdemeanor to possess more than 20 packs — or two cartons — of cigarettes that don’t bear Tennessee tax stamps.
While agents can make arrests and seize vehicles transporting contraband cigarettes, officials have said nobody has yet been charged with a crime or had their car taken.
Anybody bringing in more than 255 cartons can be charged with a felony. About 10 revenue officers are involved in the ramped-up cigarette enforcement program.
Farr’s department has come under criticism for what some consider to be heavy-handed attempts to prevent people from buying cigarettes in neighboring states that have lower cigarette taxes.
But Farr in an interview last week turned back complaints about the enforcement program, saying that the effort is also meant to educate taxpayers about how many cigarettes they can legally transport across state lines.
On the Net:
Revenue’s cigarette tax page: http://www.tennessee.gov/revenue/misc/cigtaxincrease.htm
Published in The Messenger on 11.06.07
cigarettes, Revenue agents, Tennessee