As an epidemic of tobacco tax evasion drains state treasuries across the nation, California is defying the trend with aggressive, high-tech enforcement that has cigarette tax revenue surging, reports the Los Angeles Times. State officials are reporting an increase of tens of millions of dollars in tobacco taxes for the first time in years, even as smoking in California declines.
Officials credit a unique new program that includes stamping every cigarette pack sold in the state with a counterfeit-proof sticker. Investigators, armed with hand-held devices, visit stores and scan the stickers to see whether a package of cigarettes is licensed for sale, where it came from and whether the distributor paid the required taxes. They seize illegal products as they find them and then begin tracking their sources. The stickers, along with more inspectors and strict new licensing requirements, have helped the state bust scores of smugglers and retailers, seizing millions of illegal cigarettes. Bationwide, more than $1 billion in cigarette tax money is lost each year to crime, a quarter of that in California.