Warning: Cigarette Taxes May Be Deadly!

Posted: May 20, 2002

REMEMBER those government ads that ran during the Super Bowl - the ones linking drug use with terrorism?

"Timmy," a somber-looking teen, stared at the camera and said: "I killed mothers. I killed fathers. I killed grandmas. I killed grandpas. I killed sons. I killed daughters. I killed firemen. I killed policemen."

A stark, guilt-laden message from the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy flashed during a brief pause: "DRUG MONEY SUPPORTS TERRORISM. IF YOU BUY DRUGS, YOU MIGHT, TOO."

Then, Timmy added: "Technically, I didn't kill these people. I just kind of helped."

Well, now it's the finger-wagging government's turn to 'fess up to its own indirect role in funding terrorism - through sky-high cigarette taxes.

This week, the alleged ringleader of an organized-crime cell based in Charlotte, N.C., goes on trial for providing cash and military technology to Hezbollah, the guerrilla group designated a terrorist organization by the State Department in 1997. Hezbollah has been tied to al Qaeda and to the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, that killed 241 American servicemen.

The feds say that Mohammad Youssef Hammoud, his brothers and more than a dozen others collaborated in a major cigarette-smuggling, money-laundering and immigration-fraud business to support Hezbollah activities abroad.

The ring members purchased cheap cigarettes in Charlotte, where the tobacco tax is just 5 cents a pack, then hauled them to high-tax Michigan, which raised tobacco taxes from 25 cents a pack to 75 cents in 1994. The operation is believed to have reaped millions of dollars of profit over a four-year period.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the FBI says the men used the money to buy "night vision goggles; cameras and scopes; surveying equipment; global positioning systems; mine and metal detection equipment; video equipment; advanced aircraft analysis and design software; laptop computers; stun guns; radios; mining, drilling and blasting equipment; radars; ultrasonic dog repellers; laser range finders."

The indictment of one of the ring members says he traveled to Lebanon three years ago and delivered a $3,500 payment to a Hezbollah military commander.

If not for taxaholic bureaucrats, this suspected terrorist operation wouldn't have gotten off the ground. States addicted to nicotine-stained revenue are all too happy to participate in the sanctimonious charade of condemning the vice while pocketing a chunk of the profits.

But those who advocate punitive tobacco taxes to reduce smoking and "protect kids" continue to ignore the connection between sin taxes and illegal sales.

Every state along the East Coast that has slapped astronomical and regressive taxes on tobacco has been invaded by increasingly savvy smugglers.

In New York, which recently imposed the highest tobacco tax in the nation ($1.50 a pack), police are bracing for a bootlegging bonanza. Yet, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg wants to tack on another $1.50 tax.

The feds have used taxpayer funds to draw a tenuous link between drug abuse and terrorism.

But the link between high tobacco taxes and terrorist funding is far stronger.

Sure, greedy state and federal lawmakers didn't directly fund Hezbollah killers.

As "Timmy" put it so well, they "just kind of helped." *

Michelle Malkin is a syndicated columnist. Her e-mail address is malkin1@ix.netcom.com.

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