Delivery companies scored a victory this week as the U.S. Supreme Court put the kibosh on antitobacco’s interference with home delivery of tobacco products in Maine.
When states raised cigarette taxes to unsupportable levels smokers by the millions began purchasing their smokes online. While antitobacco assured policy makers that smokers would docilely accept the enormous taxes or quit smoking, reality struck as evidence grew that states were losing a big bite of the trade when cigarette purchases online soared. Antitobacco operatives, such as Elliot Spitzer, the Attorney General of New York state, bullied legislators to enact regulations that supposedly would halt such sales. Shipping companies were enlisted in the fight with several promising not to ship tobacco products. Shipping companies have also played tax informant in a number of states.

On Wednesday the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously invalidated parts of a Maine law that caused serious interference with carriers. The ostensible rationale of the law was both tax collection and prevention of sales to minors. Thirty-one other states have similar laws, which, based on the court’s ruling, will likely be invalidated as well. Writing for the court, Justice Stephen Breyer stated that federal law prohibits states from regulating prices, routes, or services of shipping companies. The federal law, wrote Breyer, "says nothing about a public health exception" that could enable state regulation.

Laws such as Maine’s require shipping companies to monitor shipments to a degree beyond their practical capability, and to be be tax code enforcers, saddling them with huge costs. The Supreme Court’s ruling may prod some shipping companies to get out from under state laws that regulate cigarette deliveries in the internet age, although others will keep hands off, and the tax issue, including more potential informing by shipping companies, stays in the cards. New York state’s draconian law, which has considerably curtailed at-home deliveries, could be next to fall. Nevertheless intense heat from the tax man, and from antitobacco, complete with the ubiquitous appeals about "the children," will not abate. There will undoubtedly be an attempt by antitobacco to target tobacco sales and shipments through federal legislation: already, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has commented, "Congress has the capacity to act with care and dispatch to provide an effective solution."

In fact the cause of "the children" is a straw man here. Consider: how is a child going to manage using a parent’s credit card or bank account for online purchase, and receive a package at an unknown hour to the front door of the family home, without Mom or Dad ever noticing? Sending one of the gang’s big brother or sister to the corner store would be rather easier wouldn’t it? As a scary "demonstration" of internet danger to kids, antitobacco activists have contrived to have minors purchase cigarettes online with credit cards supplied by the antitobacco activists as if this proved any kid could do the same unassisted at home. This is absurd, of course, the activists effectively bought the cigarettes, with the kids punching at the keyboard, but sham is the name of the antitobacco game.

Amongst internet sales, tobacco has been singled out, because of the viciously exorbitant state taxes and Master Settlement payments associated with in-state sales, and also because raping smokers is the national bureaucratic pastime. Taxes on other items bought via internet and mail-order are overlooked but smokers must be stung and stung hard. That is what drives all of this. The unanimous Supreme Court decision here was the right one. Smokers should still be very wary of online sales. This decision could complicate but will not stop strong-arm tax collection methods being employed by the states. Increased interference with carriers at the federal level may indeed come soon too.

Experience tells us every possible method to interfere with tobacco purchases, at fair prices or at any prices, will be tried by antitobacco and its many friends in government. As always we encourage readers: boycott US Big Tobacco cigarette brands within the USA entirely, seek discount prices on brands made by smaller companies, consider all your options regarding all tobacco products, and purchase very prudently so as to avoid strong-arm attempts to fleece you. Learn the pricing options in your geographic sphere, learn of state-to-state importation limits and of how they are enforced, consider good old cash and brick-and-mortar outlets, be extremely dubious of domestic online merchants, and careful as well regarding overseas sellers. Thousands of smokers who bought online with no more ill intent than seeking a fair price have been badly hurt. As ever, but particularly for smokers today, caveat emptor.

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Supreme Court Decision



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