The state has stepped up its fight against untaxed cigarettes, seizing nearly seven million smokes since mid-December, officials say.
It’s all part of a new crackdown on sale of untaxed cigarettes from tribal smokeshops and elsewhere, a practice the state contends costs the treasury $110 million a year.
Last year, the state Legislature shifted power to enforce the tobacco tax from the Revenue Department to the Liquor Control Board, whose agents have police powers.
Legislators also gave the board $2.8 million, which among other things was used to pay for 14 more agents whose jobs were devoted solely to cracking down on illegal cigarettes.
“It’s too early to say whether it’s had a profound effect,” said Carter Mitchell, who runs tobacco-tax enforcement at the liquor board.
Still, the price of cigarettes on reservations has increased recently, Mitchell said. Some tribes also have had to rent vehicles to transport cigarettes, since seizures include not only cigarettes but also the trucks.
“So the cost of doing business is going up,” Mitchell said.
The most recent seizure was Thursday night when a Washington state trooper pulled over a truck near Gig Harbor for speeding. Close to 45,000 packs of untaxed cigarettes - more than $37,000 in lost revenue to the state - were discovered.
Washington state cigarette taxes are 82.5 cents a pack. Cigarette taxes provide the state with $254 million in revenues each year, according to the Revenue Department.
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