Indian Reservations Smoked Out: Judge Tells Paterson He Can Tax Cigarettes

Nicotine-fiending New Yorkers may stop making the trek upstate in search of cheap cartons. A ruling yesterday by a Buffalo judge put down an effort fronted by the Seneca Indian Nation to keep the cigarettes sold on Indian reservations tax-free, the Post reports. Gov. Paterson, concerned over the number of smokers who make the pilgrimage to avoid the fees that make the city’s packs among the highest in the nation, announced that cigarettes made on Indian reservations would no longer be exempt from general state cigarette taxes. Pending a challenge in federal court launched by the Senecas, the tax will go into effect tomorrow. It will require wholesale stores to prepay the tax on Native American cigarettes, in effect forcing them to raise their retail prices. 

Those living on the reservations have long fought state efforts to attain revenue from their product, claiming that the imposition infringes upon their sovereignty. When the state last tried to enact such a tax, the riots were extensive enough to shut down part of the Thruway. Paterson told WOR-AM that the State Police expects “violence and death as a result of some of the measures we’re taking,” the Post reported last week.

With the ruling expected to favor the state, Native America groups have taken measures to prepare for the incoming tax. The Oneida Indian Nation will move its cigarette factory to its homelands in an attempt to sell cheap cigarettes there, citing longstanding non-interference policies regarding reservation territory, Reuters reported. A story in The Buffalo News found that a local tobacco retailer Catt-Rez Enterprises—where Indian brands account for 70 percent of the cigarette business—saw customers stock up on cartons yesterday, in advance of the looming tax.

If the last tax-free pack of Native American smokes leaves its store tonight, there may be another loophole-utilizing way of getting your fix for cheap. The Wall Street Journal reports that in Chicago, the proverbial mother of invention has given us cigarette rolling machines, where low-cost pipe tobacco is affixed with papers and filters and sold in affordable cartons. The strategy takes advantage of the low costs on loose pipe tobacco, which falls outside of the taxable varieties. There are currently 150 of these machines in twenty different states of the union.

If these cigarette-rolling robots—only the latest development in the war against the war on smoking—can exist, it only proves that the persistence of smokers to find the cheapest pack cannot be abated. And that, well, nicotine is very addictive.

Indian Reservations Smoked Out: Judge Tells Paterson He Can Tax Cigarettes