New Jersey burned by cigarette smugglers

New Jersey could be losing up to a half-billion dollars a year because of cigarette smuggling. Lawmakers are considering a measure to crack down on it.

The legislation would increase the fines and penalties for importing and selling cigarettes without paying the New Jersey tax.

The bill is in response to a shift in business tactics by gang members, says state Sen. Donald Norcross, D-Camden.

“Because of the tough fines and penalties in many of the drug issues and crimes, it’s shifted those people who can make less money, get higher penalties, more fines,” he explained. “So they’re saying, ‘Gee, how can we make more money?’ They’re going to cigarettes.”

Norcross says gangs can make up to $4 a pack.

According to a New Jersey Treasury Department report, about 40 percent of cigarettes in the state are distributed illegally.

It’s not just the state that suffers, says Eric Blomgren of the New Jersey Convenience Store Association.

“Thousands of small-business owners who are trying to eke out a profit by playing by the rules — they’re being undercut by criminals who are willing to go around the law and give themselves an unfair advantage at the expense of the state and at the expense of honest business owners,” he said.

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