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Blocking online cigarette sales threatens us all

My Aunt died so you can smoke cheap

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And ninethly Smokers don't like being told what to do, particularly by people who don't understand why they smoke and dismiss smokers as mere idiots - Allen Carr

With April 15 nearing, I spent the better part of Tuesday hovering over my paper shredder. As the Executive Machines EPS-825X hummed away, thoughts of Aunt Margaret kept popping into my mind. My how we all miss her.

For a 225 pound woman, Aunt Margaret moved with surprising speed and smoothness. I remember her bounding across the room and snatching me up in a warm, pillowy embrace. More than anything, I remember her wonderfully tar-stained fingers kneading my chubby cheeks and that profound cigarette essence that preceded her and then wrapped me in comfort as her arms took hold. That tobacco smell will forever be linked with thoughts of love and purity of soul in my mind. That tobacco smell meant everything to me.

So, it was with horror that I read this week in the New York Times that online cigarette stores were going bust. Are they going out of business because of lack of demand or because they sell a faulty product? No, it's because a crowd of egomaniacal Woodstockers need to get their jollies by harassing hardworking men and women.

"Visa International, MasterCard International, American Express, eBay's PayPal service and others cut off the online tobacconists last month after being told by a coalition of states and representatives of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that virtually all such sales were illegal," the paper said. "Government officials said that merchants had not done enough to comply with age verification practices or to register sales with governments to insure the collection of state taxes."

Aunt Margaret had never been a rich woman, so she reveled in the appearance of online tobacconists. "My blessed, tax-free doctor," she would call her favorite virtual store.

Then, just three weeks before she passed, Aunt Margaret received a letter from New York city's bloated Finance Department. The letter - coated in Red ooze - demanded that Aunt Margaret pay back taxes on hundreds upon hundreds of cigarette cartons she had purchased online. New York has outrageous taxes in place on smokes and wanted its bloody money.

There's nothing dignified about being poor, but this obvious attack against the financially decrepit makes being unemployed seem better than working for the lefty scum at City Hall. It has taken six belts of whiskey for me to write anything nice about the destitute, but I'm pig-biting mad and prepared to defend them on this occasion.

How dare New York try and retroactively collect for its own oversights. How dare the Feds shut down honest, god-fearing, profit-making smoke shops. How dare they try and stifle innovation. How dare they spend our money harassing minimum wage plebs for a few cents. How dare they harass my Aunt Margaret!

Poor Aunt Margaret spent her last days agonizing over these back taxes. She couldn't afford to pay them. She needed bread and water and cheese. Her once heated embrace turned frigid - the extra flesh on her arm doing less soothing and more frightening. Having the letter from the New York Finance Department was as nerve-wracking to her as being left alone in the room with Bill Clinton. She couldn't hide, and could always feel those hands trying to dig in her pocket.

I could have paid the back taxes but didn't - on principle. It's something I'll have to live with for the rest of my life. Aunt Margaret died because of that letter. The worry got her in the end.

So, for all the Aunt Margarets out there, let's fight for our right to smoke cheap cigarettes. The internet is the future. America needs to set an example and show that here, in this amazing land, people will smoke for as close to free as possible. Our state borders are open for commerce. If some enterprising Indian on a reservation can get smokes to my Aunt Margaret cheaper than Walgreens, then so be it. Our future depends on this type of unfettered commerce. The online cigarette market is a $1bn industry worth celebrating. Find me a New York Red, and I'll blow smoke in his face in cheer. ®

Otto Z. Stern is a director at The Institute of Technological Values - a think tank dedicated to a more moral digital age. He has closely monitored the IT industry's intersection with America's role as a world leader for thirty years. You can find Stern at his solar-powered compound somewhere in the Great American Southwest.

Related link

New York Times story

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