Buying Cigarettes
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Senecas win cigarettes court battle

Some Seneca merchants have won a big court battle to start selling cigarettes on the internet.

The U-.. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City upheld a restraining order, issued by Judge Richard Arcara, on Tuesday. It says the portion of the Government's "PACT Act," limiting the sale of cigarettes by phone and the internet, might be unconstitutional.

Buffalo attorney Lisa Coppola said, "The consequences were, essentially, that the client would be put out of business."

Coppola is one of the lawyers handling the case for more than 140 tobacco retailers, from the Seneca nation of Indians, that sell and ship cigarette across the country. The Senecas challenged the "PACT Act," signed by President Obama last year, because it requires them to obey the tax laws of every state where they ship cigarettes - a nearly impossible task.

"I can't tell you, as a lawyer here in New York State, what the laws in Arizona say, or what the laws in Phoenix, Arizona say," explained Coppola.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Arcara granted the Seneca businesses a restraining order from the tax provisions, which was appealed by the government and 42 states, including New York.

Coppola also says the ruling comes at a time when Seneca businesses are cutting back on the sale of their national brand tobacco products because they're forced to pay the sales taxes on them. Coppola says the Seneca businesses are selling their own brands of cigarettes without New York's tax stamp on them.

"To, once again, stamp those packs of cigarettes, and our client is not participating in that system at the present time," said Coppola.

Other portions of the "PACT Act" are still in place, including the ban on shipping cigarettes through the U.S. Postal Service. The major shipping companies, such as Federal Express and UPS, have signed agreements refusing to ship cigarettes across state lines.

Published: Tuesday, September 20, 2011

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