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Virginia is for smokers and smugglers, too

Smoking cigarettes is harmful to your health and others around you. Selling cigarettes illegally is harmful to your financial health, and you could find your butt sitting in a jail cell for a long, long time.

That's what a Berryville husband and wife are facing after pleading guilty this week to federal charges of money laundering and selling and distributing contraband cigarettes.

Virginia is a popular destination for those aiming to buy cigarettes here and resell them in other states - like New York - that charge much higher taxes on cigarettes than our tobacco-loving state.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Virginia has the second lowest state tax on cigarettes at 30 cents a pack. Missouri is first at 17 cents a pack. New York charges the most state tax at $4.35.

A new law goes into effect July 1 that imposes state criminal and civil penalties on cigarette smugglers, but what might strangle the illegal activity is a higher state tax on cigarettes.

Attempts have been made - and dashed - to raise the tax. If Virginia's tax were similar to New York's, our state probably wouldn't be so attractive to smugglers, we would see more revenue that could be used for schools or infrastructure, and the tax would not be a burden on every taxpayer - just the smokers. As a bonus, we might see a decrease in teen smoking and a healthier population.

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