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Illicit Tobacco: Various Schemes Are Used to Evade Taxes and Fees

GAO-11-313 Published: Mar 07, 2011. Publicly Released: Mar 07, 2011.
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Federal and state governments have raised excise taxes on tobacco products to discourage tobacco use and increase revenues. Cross-border and illicit trade in tobacco products can undermine these policy objectives by avoiding excise taxes and increasing the availability of these products to consumers at lower cost. On June 22, 2009, Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Pub. L. No. 111-31), which directed GAO to report on cross-border and illicit trade in tobacco products. Crossborder trade is defined in the Act as trade across a U.S. border, state, territory, or Indian country. Illicit trade is defined in the Act as any practice or conduct prohibited by law which relates to or facilitates the production, shipment, receipt, possession, distribution, sale, or purchase of tobacco products. This report is the first of two GAO products that will respond to this mandate. This report examines (1) incentives that are important for understanding cross-border and illicit trade in tobacco products; and (2) different schemes used to generate profits from cross-border and illicit trade in tobacco products. GAO interviewed government officials, industry representatives, and other subject matter experts. GAO collected and analyzed data from these sources and reviewed relevant literature.

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Drug traffickingExcise taxesExportingFederal legislationstate relationsFeesImportingManufacturing industryProfitsSalesSmokingSmugglingState governmentsState legislationTax evasionTobacco industryTobacco taxesWebsitesCounterfeitingIncentivesUnderreporting