House Introduces Legislation to Outlaw Mail Order Cigarettes

Two days ago, Rep. John McHugh (D R-NY), introduced legislation that would ban the mailing of cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and roll-your-own tobacco. The relevant portion of the legislation is as follows:

Sec. 3002b. Nonmailability of certain tobacco products

`(a) In General- Cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and roll-your-own-tobacco–

`(1) are nonmailable matter;

`(2) shall not be–

`(A) deposited in the mails; or

`(B) carried or delivered through the mails; and

`(3) shall be disposed of as the Postal Service directs.

`(b) Civil Penalty-

`(1) IN GENERAL- Any person who violates subsection (a)(2)(A) shall be liable to the United States for a civil penalty in an amount not to exceed $100,000 for each violation.

Jim Harper at Cato disapproves of the bill, but doesn’t think that it will affect too many people. I beg to differ–a quick Google search for “mail order cigarettes” unearthed quite a few internet mail order sites. And every single one of them will go out of business as a consequence.

Ostensibly, the reason for this legislation is to keep cigarettes out of the hands of minors. But surely this same goal could be accomplished by enacting mandatory ID checks–such as a driver’s license or other means. This legislation has been introduced before and failed to pass. Here’s hoping that it fails again. As long as cigarettes are a legal product, there is no reason to ban their use in the mail.

UPDATE: Commenter SDM informs me that McHugh is a Republican, not a Democrat as I previously noted.

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Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    Check what New York’s cigarette tax rate is compared to buying over the Internet. I suspect this is more about government wanting your money than protecting minors.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I suspect YAJ is right: It’s about taxes with children the convenient cover.

  3. Maggie Mama says:

    Taxes, taxes, taxes. It is also a way to strike out at the NY Indian reservations that are refusing to turn over their cigarette sales records to the state government.

    But NY also has a “use” tax. As explained by the NY Times today:

    “For decades, New York and other states have required their residents to pay use tax — equivalent to sales tax — on out-of-state purchases for which sales tax wasn’t collected.”

    If I were in Disney World, purchased a T-shirt, paid no tax, I was expected to return to NYS and inform them of my purchase and pay the appropriate tax.

    NYS is now at war with Amazon re:Internet sales taxes.

    Money, money, money. NY can’t manage it properly so it needs more. Everything is taxes to the idiots in Albany.

  4. Hoodlumman says:

    I order wine online and it requires an over-21 signature by the delivery company. Keeping minors “safe” isn’t the issue here.

  5. Michael says:

    If it’s a tax issue, couldn’t they just require the mail-order company to add on the destination state’s sales taxes to the cost of the order, then send that money to the state? I mean, it’s not like they don’t know where you live.

  6. FormerHostage says:

    Does this mean that a soldier’s family can’t send them a couple cartons of cigs while they’re deployed? (not all of them have access to the PX but mail ALWAYS catches up)

    How about cigars?

    If this is being done despite the sale of cigarettes being legal, how long before the mailing/mail ordering of other “not good for you” substances is outlawed? No more Allen Brothers meats or candy-grams?

  7. SDM says:

    McHugh is a Republican, fyi