Boston’s black-market cigarette problem

From: The Boston Globe

A new report suggests smuggling is rampant—and we may have well-intentioned policies to blame

By Kevin Hartnett

In December 2011, a pair of data collectors came to Boston for a short, messy job. They made 29 different stops, moving through South Boston, Hyde Park, Dorchester, Roslindale, and parts of Brookline, systematically walking the neighborhood streets and picking up discarded cigarette packs.

They collected 253 packs in all, which they sent to a research team in North Carolina. The researchers checked a small label affixed to the cellophane wrapper—the state excise tax stamp—and recorded what they found. Last month they published the startling results in the journal Tobacco Control: Of the cigarettes smoked in Boston, they estimate, nearly 40 percent arrive here through the black market.

A “litter study,” as this method is called, isn’t a definitive measurement of trafficking rates. But the new report offers a fresh and alarming data point on a problem that state officials are deeply concerned about: Over the last two decades, smuggling has come to represent a surprisingly large part of the local cigarette market.

It’s not just in Boston. The research team, led by Kevin Davis, an economist with the independent research institute RTI International, found estimated trafficking rates to be similarly high in several other northeastern cities, including New York (about 48 percent), Providence (30 to 55 percent), and Washington, D.C. (30 to 60 percent). The origins of the out-of-state packs suggest the overwhelming majority of them are brought in by organized traffickers, rather than daytripping smokers.

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