SPOKANE, Wash. -- The owner of Tobacco, Beer & More, Jeff Toole, said he is accustomed to competition from other stores. Yet when some rival shop owners smuggle in cigarettes illegally, the game changes.
Toole said customers often ask about price discrepancies. “How come I can buy this tobacco item down the street for 90 cents cheaper, or a dollar cheaper?” asked Toole.
The answer is sometimes illegal cigarettes – smuggled in by a store owner and sold for less.
Lieutenant Rod Mittman with the Liquor and Tobacco unit of Washington’s Liquor Control Board said his agency has recently busted some store owners for buying cigarettes cheaply across state lines – or on tribal land -- and bringing them to Spokane to sell them. Lt. Mittman said you can usually tell cigarettes are illegal because either the tax stamp is missing, or it’s from a state other than Washington.
The Washington Department of Revenue calculated in the last year, more than one third of all the packs sold in Washington were illegal. That works out to about 101.4 million untaxed packs or a state revenue loss of more than $376 million dollars in just one year.
“It’s frightening,” added Lt. Mittman. “It’s more common than you think, because everybody wants to make a dollar. Everybody wants to save a dollar.”
Tonight at 6:00 p.m., KREM 2’s Jane McCarthy takes you inside the overwhelming problem and why it may not go away in a Two on Your Side Investigation.