Posted at 11:47 p.m. EDT Friday, July 21, 2000
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Tax differential fuels smuggling
By ANN DOSS HELMS
Cigarette smuggling is a multimillion-dollar racket that's been linked
organized crime in the Middle East, Russia and Asia.
The basic premise is this: Buy low, sell high. In this case, that means
buying cigarettes in low-tax states and reselling them illegally in high-tax
On Friday, federal authorities in Charlotte charged 18 people in
connection with a scheme to smuggle cigarettes out of the state and
funnel the profits to Hezbollah, an international terrorist group.
FBI officials won't say how much was made in the smuggling conspiracy.
But six-figure profits are easily had.
For example, North Carolina taxes cigarettes at 5 cents a pack,
Michigan at 75 cents. Smugglers who buy here and sell there can
pocket the mark-up instead of paying the tax. A medium-sized van full of
cigarettes brings $8,000 to $10,000, according to Richard Fox of the
federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
In 1978, the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act made it a federal
crime to take more than 60,000 cigarettes, or 300 cartons, from one
state to another without proof that state taxes were paid.
But the wide range of state taxes, from 2.5 cents a pack in Virginia to
in Alaska, make the profit worth the risk to some.
"ATF has uncovered involvement in cigarette smuggling by Russian,
Middle Eastern and Asian organized crime groups," ATF Director John
Magaw told a House committee in 1997.
Tobacco-growing states tend to have lower taxes (South Carolina's is 7
cents a pack), and thus become a smuggling source.
An Iredell County sheriff's detective pegged JR Tobacco in Statesville
as a source in 1995, when he noticed people paying cash for large
quantities of cigarettes and loading them into vehicles with out-of-state
license plates, according to a federal affidavit released Friday.
Investigations that followed eventually led to Friday's arrests.
By LINDSEY TANNER
AP Medical Writer
CHICAGO (AP) — A new study suggests smoking
may be a cause of depression in teen-agers,
contradicting the current thinking that says
depressed people may smoke to feel better.
The study found that teens who smoked were about
four times more likely to develop highly depressed
symptoms during a year's time.
The researchers speculated that nicotine or other
smoking byproducts may have a depressive effect
on the central nervous system.
The study adds to a growing body of conflicting
research on links between tobacco and the mind.
``The thing that bolsters the idea is that there is
evidence that anti-depressant drugs are helpful in
treating nicotine addiction,'' said Dr. Elizabeth
Goodman, an adolescent-medicine specialist at Children's Hospital Medical
Center of Cincinnati who led the study.
The study appears in the October issue of Pediatrics, the monthly
journal of the
American Academy of Pediatrics.
Other researchers have linked teen smoking with suicide, and smoking
depression in adults, but they disagree over whether tobacco use is a cause or
merely a result of a depressed state.
Most people think that those who tend to be depressed ``self-medicate
smoking. This is probably not the case,'' said Naomi Breslau, director of research
at Henry Ford Health Systems in Detroit.
Breslau's own research also has suggested tobacco may somehow
depression. She said that while the new findings do not prove smoking is a
cause, they strongly support that theory.
``They find absolutely no evidence that depressive symptoms per
the risk for smoking,'' she said. ``They do find very clear evidence in the other
She added: ``It's just one more adverse effect of smoking on health.''
The study relied not on doctors' diagnoses but on teen-agers'
reports of having
symptoms suggestive of depression.
The study analyzed data from teens questioned in 1995 and 1996
in a national
study on adolescent health. It included 8,704 teens who were not initially
depressed and 6,947 teens who were not initially smokers.
Evidence suggesting depression was a cause rather than a result
evaporated when the researchers took into account other factors that may have
prompted the teens to start smoking, such as friends' use of tobacco and poor
Current smokers included those who smoked as little as one cigarette
previous month and those who smoked a pack a day or more. The researchers
did not examine whether teens who smoked the most were the most likely to
develop depression, but some of their other findings suggest that may have been
After a year's time, 4.8 percent of the nonsmokers had developed
symptoms compared with 12 percent of those who initially smoked at least a
pack a day.
Linda Pederson, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control
Prevention's office on smoking and health, said the study was well-done, larger
and more nationally representative than previous research that reached
On the Net: http://www.aap.org