Officials say a Brooklyn bodega owner figured out a creative way to hide untaxed cigarettes from inspectors. According to a video posted by the Department of Taxation and Finance commissioner, a Brooklyn bodega set up a remote control shelf to hide the allegedly illegal cigarettes.
"Trafficking in untaxed product is rampant," the Taxation and Finance Commissioner Mike Schmidt wrote on Twitter. "It costs us revenue, thwarts public health goals, and hurts businesses who play by the rules."
When an investigator presses a button on a remote control in the video, a shelf rises to reveal stacks of allegedly untaxed cigarettes.
"Here's what we're up against," Schmidt wrote.
The department declined to identify where in Brooklyn the store is located, but according to the Post, an investigation into it is ongoing after a recent raid.
Currently, the city and state have a combined $5.85 tax on a pack of 20 cigarettes sold in New York City, the second highest in the country. But tobacco products are often smuggled into the city from states where tobacco taxes are lower, and a 2017 study found that New York City is a haven for smuggling cigarettes. The state loses $1 billion a year from untaxed smokes, according to the Post.
Governor Andrew Cuomo recently proposed a far-reaching crackdown on illegal tobacco products, which would allow the Taxation and Finance department to shut down shops found with untaxed products. The proposal, a part of the 2020 budget plan, would also more than triple fines for selling cigarettes to people under 21 years old from $300 to $1,000.
"Cigarettes claim thousands of lives each year, and we will not turn a blind eye to retailers who deliberately flout the law just to make an extra buck at the expense of the health of New Yorkers," Cuomo said in a statement last month.
In a separate far-reaching bill, three state lawmakers have proposed legislation that would ban nearly all cigarettes through prohibiting the sale of single-use cigarette butts, attachable filters and single-use electronic cigarettes in New York.