Postal Service Avoids Fray Over Online Cigarette Sales


As they move to thwart the illegal trade of cigarettes over the Internet, New York officials have joined colleagues from around the nation in persuading the major credit card companies to stop processing payments for online cigarette sales. Additionally, the state has enacted a law prohibiting the shipment of cigarettes to its residents and banned private carriers, like FedEx, from shipping cigarettes. But the New York Times reports that as state officials fight illegal online cigarette sales, one operation is not falling into line – the United States Postal Service, which officials say delivers the bulk of illegally purchased cigarettes to New Yorkers.

The Postal Service, citing concerns about the privacy of the mail and wary of putting postal clerks in the position of deciding which packages to accept and which to reject, is resisting the growing calls that it stop shipping cigarettes. Its stance is exasperating law enforcement officials. “It is outrageous that the federal government…is knowingly acting as the delivery arm for these criminal enterprises,” said New York’s attorney general, Eliot Spitzer. The National Association of Attorneys General asked the Postal Service to “adopt a firm policy prohibiting transportation of packages that the carrier knows or reasonably should know contains cigarettes sold illegally on the Internet.” But the Post Service’s general counsel responded, “Tobacco is a legal, mailable product.”


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