As the price of cigarettes in the United States climbs higher and higher, so does the interest in black market cigarettes. According to a recent estimate, 17.9% of the cigarettes smoked in Florida are smuggled – placing Florida as number 16 on the list of states where black market cigarettes are the most common.
There are several ways that trafficking in black market cigarettes can get you in trouble with the law. One of them is tax evasion. Florida Statute 210.18 lays out the considerable penalties for evading cigarette taxes.
What Does the Statute Actually Prohibit?
210.18 includes the following provisions:
- Possessing unstamped cigarette packages (that is, cigarettes on which the proper taxes and surcharges have not been paid), or transporting unstamped cigarette packages on Florida’s public highways, streets or roads for the purpose of selling them, is a first-degree misdemeanor. It is also a first-degree misdemeanor to sell unstamped cigarette packages, or to willfully attempt to evade or defeat cigarette taxes. (If the person convicted of violating this provision has previously been convicted of violating cigarette tax law, then he or she will be guilty of a third-degree felony.)
- If someone forges, counterfeits or alters a cigarette stamp (meaning the stamp that is legally required to be placed on packages of cigarettes, which serves as evidence that the proper taxes and surcharges have been paid), or causes such a stamp to be forged, counterfeited, or altered, then that person is guilty of a third-degree felony. It is also a third-degree felony when someone knowingly and willfully purchases or passes off a stamp that has been forged, counterfeited or altered.
- If someone owns or possesses cigarettes on which the proper taxes have not been paid, or if a corporation owns or possesses such cigarettes, then the person or corporation may be considered liable for the amount of the unpaid tax, in addition to any criminal penalties. (This provision does not apply to a person or corporation in possession of three or fewer cartons of cigarettes, if the cigarettes were legally purchased in another state.)
- If someone is found to be in custody or possession of cigarettes, with the intention to evade the payment of the proper taxes on the cigarettes – or the intention to sell them in violation of cigarette laws – then any law enforcement agent can seize the cigarettes and forfeit them to the state. (This provision also does not apply to someone who is in possession of three or fewer cartons of cigarettes, if the cigarettes were legally purchased in another state.)
- If someone possesses or sells counterfeit cigarettes (that is, cigarettes with false manufacturing labels, or tobacco product packs with counterfeit tax stamps), then he or she is guilty of a third-degree felony, and may be subject to fines and additional penalties.
Where to Find Representation
If you live in the Fort Lauderdale area, and you have been charged with an offense related to black market cigarettes, you can call or email the office of Mark S. Lowry, an experienced criminal defense attorney.