No single recommendation is going to rid Massachusetts of its illegal tobacco market but a layered approach could accomplish results.  That was the message reiterated time and again by presenters at the Illegal Tobacco Commission meeting Tuesday morning in Boston. It was the Commission’s third meeting since convening in October 2013.

“The single most important step that can be taken [to combat the illegal market] is the creation of a dedicated taskforce,” said Michael Thorne-Begland from Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA.  “The group should be solely dedicated to addressing these issues.” Begland said the taskforce should include multiple agencies. He gave taskforces created in California and Cook County, Illinois as examples the commission could examine.

“As the price goes up in Massachusetts, there are people here who want access to a lower priced product,” said Begland. “They’re willing to pay organized groups to bring the product to them.”  Altria representatives also recommended the Commonwealth provide more information about tobacco enforcement on its website, collaborate with neighboring states, and allocate or redistribute funds for tobacco enforcement.

SICPA, the company which supplies Massachusetts encrypted cigarette stamps, presented before the Commission at Tuesday’s meeting as well.

“A tax increase doesn’t always come with a change in a fine increase or more enforcement personnel,” said Alex Finkel, a SICPA representative. SICPA recommended a multi-faceted approach to combat the illegal tobacco market including increasing penalties, dedicating more manpower, incorporating detailed reporting requirements, and educating the stakeholders.

The Illegal Tobacco Commission was created by 2013 legislature to study the economic impact of the illegal tobacco market in the Commonwealth and make recommendations on how to combat illicit activity. On July 31st, the cigarette excise tax rate increased from $2.51 a pack to $3.51. The Illegal Tobacco Commission will meet again in December. Their recommendations must be submitted to legislators by March 1st, 2014. For more information about the Commission please visit.

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