For Immediate Release: September 17, 2006
Contact: Audrey Silk (917) 888-9317



The city-based smokers' rights group commends NYC Councilman David Weprin for bringing attention, at his news conference today, to the unfair practices of the NYC Department of Finance and join him in calling for a serious review of the aggressive campaign to collect back taxes on cigarettes.
NYC C.L.A.S.H. (Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment) is a grassroots organization established to defend adults who choose to smoke.  In this modern day environment where it is open season on smokers, we applaud Councilman Weprin's courage for coming to the defense of a group of people based on a principle rather than joining the ranks of those who'd disregard the situation based on a judgement of these people's legal private life choices.
Tearful senior citizens have suddenly gotten bills for over $1000 (for purchases that date back to 2002) along with a chilly note saying "pay up in 30 days."  The citizens being hammered are--once again-- smokers, and only smokers, since the items in question here are only cigarettes, though technically taxes are due on all items that were purchased on the internet or bought out of state.  Unfortunately, almost no one--or no one outside of the Finance Department itself-- is, or ever has been, aware that on-line purchases are subject to city tax. So this is one brutal Gotcha, and it's very selectively aimed.

And the people it's aimed at are-- disproportionately-- the most financially vulnerable.  People who were driven to buying their smokes on line by the city's exorbitant and punitive taxes.  While the wealthier smokers may easily afford to buy $70 cartons, it's the elderly, disabled, and lower-paid workers who are forced to buy on line, and legitimately unaware that they've committed any infractions.

Surely, the city has better things to do than to selectively criminalize this one single group.  Rather it should seek to enhance its revenues from the sale of cigarettes by lowering the taxes and gaining back the customers it's lost to the net.

(See "City Accused of Using ‘Scare Tactics' To Get Back Unpaid Cigarette Taxes," New York Sun, September 18, 2006)