New Tobacco Road

A wave of crime, robbing states of needed revenues, disrupting legitimate businesses, and nurturing a culture of corruption has taken hold along the Interstate 95 corridor up and down the east coast, making it The New Tobacco Road.

A $5.5 Billion problem*

Today, more than 60 percent of cigarettes in New York state are illegal, smuggled into the state by a growing web of criminal groups. In states along the I-95 corridor, criminals are seizing the opportunity to make massive profits from a legal, easily transportable product.

Left unchecked, those growing illegal operations will solidify into a corrosive mixture of crime, corruption and circumvention of the nation’s tobacco-control laws, putting at risk efforts to keep tobacco out of the hands of young people, disrupting legal commerce and putting honest small businesses at a disadvantage.

What was once a minor problem of individuals seeking to avoid taxes has turned into a professional criminal enterprise. Cigarettes are the new currency of crime, fueling illegal and violent activity. The flow of illicit tobacco goods along the New Tobacco Road has become a torrent, and the threat to public safety becomes more evident, more significant and more costly every day.

Little risk, big reward

Penalties for trafficking in cigarettes are weak while the incentive to smuggle is strong. Smugglers purchase tobacco products in states with lower taxes, transport them up I-95 to states with higher tax levies, then sell them on the black market, reaping huge profits and robbing states of legitimate tax revenues. The risk vs. the reward is heavily weighted in favor of reward.

Law enforcement does not have all the tools it needs – neither the people nor the money – to fully combat this crime. Tobacco smuggling is treated as a minor crime, and the criminal penalties are not severe enough to deter the illegal activity. Because officials are faced with many other important law-enforcement missions, cigarette trafficking is often lower on the priority list, competing for scarce resources.

What to do?

There are steps that can be taken to fight back. Public awareness of the problem needs to be raised, and states need to create tougher penalties for cigarette trafficking and provide law enforcement with more resources and more incentives to make stopping cigarette smuggling a priority.

You can make a difference by supporting tougher laws in your state and by providing police with more support to focus on this criminal threat. This website will provide tools and information to help in the fight: updates on the cost to taxpayers through lost revenues, useful studies on illicit trade, a blog by a law-enforcement expert with real-life knowledge of the battle, reports on the latest legislative efforts and important news coverage.

The New Tobacco Road. Its crimes touch your neighborhood and family and reach around the world. It hurts businesses and threatens our safety. Please use this website to help join the fight against this serious economic and law-enforcement problem.

*Source: Mackinac Center for Public Policy


Revenue lost to black market cigarettes so far this year

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The Mackinac study "Cigarette Taxes and Smuggling" shows the strong correlation between high cigarette taxes and smuggling, theft and other violent crimes.