The cost and risk of trafficking in tobacco products must be raised substantially. Lawmakers must pass stringent laws and impose significant fines and penalties to serve as deterrents. Selling cigarettes without a license, purchasing or selling unstamped cigarettes and refusing to produce business records pertaining to the purchase, sale or transportation of cigarettes should all be met with stiffer penalties.
Increasing penalties is not enough. States need to fund enforcement as well. The stark reality of illicit trade is that there are not enough federal and state resources allocated to enforcing existing laws. For example, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assigns only 2 percent of its agents to address illicit tobacco investigations. More resources should be directed to this growing law enforcement crisis.
It's time for state legislatures, attorneys general and law enforcement to collaborate with other states to create a comprehensive approach to address the problem of illicit tobacco trade. This isn’t one state’s problem, but a joint challenge for all states along the New Tobacco Road.
Some states are taking action. Virginia passed tough anti-trafficking legislation in 2012 and again in 2014. More states along the New Tobacco Road are considering new laws and remedies to fight illegal tobacco trade.