Virginia to Crack Down on Black Market Cigarette Trade

Dec 8, 2016

For those who are willing to traffic in illegal goods, the big money is not in cocaine or heroin. As Michael Pope tells us, criminals are cleaning up with illegal cigarettes.

For many years, Virginia has been the home of the tobacco industry. Now Virginia is becoming the center of the underground cigarette trade. According to the Virginia State Police, criminals can make more money trafficking black market cigarettes than dealing drugs or guns. Quentin Kidd says it’s a simple matter of supply and demand.

“If you can buy cigarettes in Richmond in bulk and ship them up to New York City and sell them on the street for slightly less than it costs to buy them in a regular store in New York City, you can make large amounts of money.”

Cigarettes confiscated by the Northern Virginia Cigarette Tax Board.
Credit Virginia Crime Commission

Virginia gets three dollars of tax revenue from a carton of cigarettes. New York gets $44 of tax revenue for each carton, and the city gets an additional $15 on top of that. Sharon Melzer at George Mason University says the underground cigarette traffic leads to three to seven billion dollars each year. 

“We have lots of cases where we have serious organized crime involved. We have links to terrorism and the funding of terrorism. And so we need to make sure that the public is aware of the dangers of illicit tobacco."

This week, the Virginia Crime Commission outlined a new proposal to solve the problem — make it more difficult for fake businesses to get certificates that allow them to buy cigarettes in bulk. The General Assembly is expected to take up the issue next month.