Butt-legging: City’s rising black market


New York City’s most common black market commodity may not be drugs, or guns but smokes.

Cigarette “butt-legging” is fueling black market activity. As the tax goes up, so do illegal cigarette sales; in Albany, state legislators are even mulling an additional $1 hike.

“It’s been growing over the past several years. Whenever we see taxes go up, we see the smuggling business take off,” said Joe Green from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “And it’s getting more violent — people are getting to a point where they’ll trade anything for cigarettes — drugs, guns.”

Cigarettes cost about $10 a pack, but can be found illegally for $5 a pack.

A 21-year-old Bronx man who said he often buys illegal cigarettes said, “Store owners typically display ‘taxed cigarettes’ while concealing black market smokes. (They’re) more likely to sell contraband cigarettes to those they know.”

In more sophisticated operations, the millions made from illegal sales is reputed to line the pockets of organized crime rings and terrorist organizations like al-Qaida and Hezbollah.

A researcher at the Tax Foundation, a conservative tax reform group, has estimated up to three-quarters of tobacco consumed in the city is sold illegally. Others doubt the black market is that large.

“You can get them easy,” said one East Village resident, who declined to give his name. “Anywhere along Avenue D, you hear them saying ‘loosie, loosie,’” referring to the sale of single cigarettes, usually for 50 cents.

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