ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) —Millions of tax dollars are going up in smoke. The Maryland comptroller's office is cracking down on cigarette smuggling.
Political reporter Pat Warren reports an aggressive enforcement is netting results.
Marylanders who smoke em if they got em but can't afford to buy em are driving the market for smugglers.
"That old expression "Why do you rob banks? Well, that's where the money is." Why do you smuggle cigarettes? Because that's where the money is. It's very lucrative," said Comptroller Peter Franchot.
It's an epidemic says the comptroller's office. Since July of last year 196 people have been arrested for smuggling nearly 326,000 packs of cigarettes valued at $2 million.
The growing demand for the contraband may be an unintended consequence of the state's cigarette tax hikes.
"Clearly the discrepancy between North Carolina which has a 4 cent per pack tax, and Maryland has whatever it is now, $2 a pack," Franchot said. "That discrepancy is the opportunity for these criminals to make money."
Aggressive action by state revenue agents nearly doubled the amount of cigarettes seized in the past 12 months compared to the previous year.
"We do believe we're catching only a small portion of the people running up and down the highways every day. In fact, recently we debriefed an individual who said 40 people a day left his neighborhood to travel to Virginia to pick up cigarettes," said Earl Fowlkes, field enforcement.
Virginia's tax rate is 30 cents a pack. Maryland is $2.
A bill to increase the finds from $50 dollars to $150 passed the House last year but died in the Senate. The comptroller says it will be back next year.
Agents also confiscated $92,000 worth of beer, wine and liquor in the same 12-month period.
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