(NASHVILLE, TN, October 4, 2007) State Representative Matthew Hill (R-Johnson City) said today he will join colleagues in introducing legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly to curb the “excessive enforcement and surveillance” tactics by the state’s Revenue Department Special Investigations Section of Tennessee residents who buy cigarettes at out-of-state tobacco retailers located near the state line. Hill said he was looking at a couple of legislative options to control these “unreasonable and unbelievable” tactics.
“The efforts by Revenue Commissioner Farr to accost people by placing an ‘SS’ type of ‘Special Smoking’ agents to look over the shoulders of persons buying cigarettes at the market across state lines to see if they are Tennesseans is way out of line with the kind of law enforcement the people of this state expect us to conduct,” said Rep. Hill. “This is not Nazi Germany where the government is looking at every aspect of our lives. We have much more pressing problems than to be utilizing the resources of this state to conduct surveillance and stop citizens to see how many packs of cigarettes they have,” he continued.
Tennesseans may legally possess no more than two cartons of cigarettes without the state tax stamp. Possession of more than two but less than 25 cartons of contraband cigarettes, is a misdemeanor. Possession of more than 25 cartons of untaxed cigarettes is a Class E felony. Any contraband cigarettes and the vehicle in which they were transported are also subject to seizure. Tennessee’s cigarette tax was raised from 20 cents per pack to 62 cents per pack during the 2007 legislative session.
“We can address this problem through legislation changing the amount of cigarettes a person can possess without a state tax stamp before it is considered illegal or we can look at under what circumstances that these agents can cross state lines for collection purposes,” Hill continued. “However, you would think that common sense would prevail and we would not have to resort to this kind of legislation when clearly the efforts should center on those who are in the resale business.”
Rep. Hill said the administration was warned by fiscal experts who said the price hike could provide an incentive for some Tennessee residents to buy cigarettes in neighboring states. The administration expects to raise $239 million in revenues from the tax increase.
“The citizens in my district are outraged that we are putting valuable resources into this type of government surveilance and I don’t blame them. We have one of the highest crime rates in the nation, we have drunk drivers on our highways and we have an illegal immigration problem. To stand on the state line to see how many packs of cigarettes a person bring back is way beyond misuse of taxpayer money and resources.”