Thursday, May 21, 2009

House votes to crack down on tobacco black market com/hostednews/ ap/article/ ALeqM5ihRBqQOSdK R-8ub7K-SOVcRlo8 JwD98APQL80

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Thursday approved tougher enforcement measures against contraband cigarette sales that make money for criminals, but cost federal, state and local governments billions of dollars.

The bill, which passed 397-11, is especially aimed at Internet sales. Sellers on the Internet and others shipping to remote locations would have to verify the purchaser's age and identity through accessible databases.

Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products could no longer be mailed through the U.S. Postal Service except in limited cases. Private delivery companies already have agreed not to ship tobacco products while the Postal Service continues to deliver products purchased over the Internet.

Misdemeanors under current law would be made felonies, and it would be a federal offense for any seller failing to pay state tax laws.

The legislation would empower each state to enforce federal law against out-of-state sellers sending delivery sales into the state.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would gain authority to inspect distributors of cigarettes, and anyone refusing the inspection would be penalized.

Chief sponsor Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., said that as tobacco taxes have increased, "We have unwittingly created a large and growing black market for smuggled tobacco products."

Weiner cited a Government Accountability Office report that organizations including Hezbollah made money through the tobacco black market.

The Senate yet to consider the measure.

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