On the Loose-ie in New York

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Unemployed and looking for a lucrative job in New York City? Don’t mind long walks and occasional arrests? This may be a job for you: According to an article in The New York Times, smuggling and reselling cigarettes on the streets is a profitable practice. The Times reporter Joseph Goldstein followed a successful street vendor nicknamed Lonnie Loosie by law enforcement officials because of his repeated arrests for selling individual cigarettes (“loosies”). Lonnie purchases cigarettes for slightly more than $50 per carton from smugglers in other states where taxes are less than a dollar a pack. Charging 75 cents per cigarette, two for $1 or a whole pack for $8, Lonnie makes about $120 to $150 in profit daily from selling about 2,000 cigarettes to passers-by on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan. “The tax went up, and we started selling 10 times as much,” he says. “Bloomberg thinks he’s stopping people from smoking. He’s just turning them on to loosies.”

This story sends a strong public health message, says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “Illicit cigarette smuggling is already rife and rampant. As I said before the FDA committee, such vignettes should reinforce the bleak picture that would result from a ban of menthol in cigarettes: a huge black market, loss of tax revenue, increased sales to youngsters and no decrease in smoking.”