Smoking Surveillance Program is a Gross Abuse of Power (and a lesson in ignorance)
October 8, 2007, 5:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

            I hate smoking. I hate cigarettes. I hate the smell, I hate what it does to your body (and mine!), I hate seeing butts lying around, I hate having to roll up my window when I end up beside a smoker at a red light, and I hate having to walk through a cloud of smoke to enter a building. I used to smoke. I quit. And now I hate it. I have asthma and a baby.  Keep your cigarettes away from me. Yick.

     All that being said, I am absolutely appalled by Tennessee’s new “Cigarette Surveillance Program.” I wholeheartedly believe that you should be able to buy what you want, where you want so long as you’re spending your own money (I would be opposed, however, to you spending your food stamps on cigarettes, but that’s a whole other debate).

     Essentially, State Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr’s agents will be watching the border to make sure that Tennesseans aren’t buying their smokes in another state and bringing them back to Tennessee. Anyone caught with more than 2 cartons of cigarettes without Tennessee tax stamps could be subject to a fine and up to 6 months in jail; carrying more than 25 cartons of cigarettes across the border is a felony and the possessor will be subject to a minimum of one year in jail. Plus Farr might take your car.

     Farr’s reaction to accusations that the program illegally interferes in interstate commerce is, “We’re not regulating the purchase of anything in another state. We’re regulating the possession of contraband in Tennessee.” Right.

     Whether or not a court says that the Cigarette Surveillance program is legal, there is no question that the program is just plain stupid.  Any lawmaker who thinks that raising taxes on items that can be purchased elsewhere is going to actually increase revenue (at least as much as he says it is) is kidding himself. Sure, those who are stuck in the middle of the state, a couple of hours (or more) from the border, are probably not going to go through all the effort of driving to a neighbor state to make purchases. Those of us, however, who live close enough to the border, are going to cross to save a few bucks. Revenue agents be darned.  

I find this similar to cities who insist on annexing rather than creating a tax structure (i.e., low burden) that is inviting.  How much better to have lower taxes to encourage people to come to your county/city/state rather than forcing them to pay your taxes through annexation or rogue revenue agents impounding your vehicle.

Nevertheless, Farr and his not-so-merry band will be spying on you when you cross the border. So hide your smokes.

Jama Oliver


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