(TRENTON) – The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee today advanced a bill sponsored by Senator Donald Norcross (D-Camden/Gloucester) to increase penalties for selling counterfeit cigarettes. New Jersey has had a long history of cigarette smuggling, and officials have seen an explosion of activity in the last five years. “The fact of the matter is that this business is lucrative for criminals and dangerous for our state’s residents,” said Senator Norcross, chair of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. “The penalties currently in place do not appropriately reflect the severity of the crime being committed, and the situation will only continue to escalate if we fail to act now.” According to recent reports, a bulk of the counterfeit cigarettes sold in New Jersey are smuggled in from states with lower sales taxes to be sold at a high profit. The backbone of the trade consists of highly organized gangs that have switched from selling illicit drugs and weapons to cigarettes because of the increased profit margins and significantly lower penalties for conviction. It has also been reported that larger gangs set up branches in the area to use the traffic of cigarettes to bankroll other operations. Norcross’s legislation would enhance penalties and fines against those caught selling illegal cigarettes. It also increases transparency of sales and strengthens state licensing and reporting requirements to more effectively assist New Jersey law enforcement. “Gangs who take advantage of the relatively minor penalties surrounding tobacco theft are a threat to public safety throughout our region,” Senator Norcross added. “By helping our law enforcement officers crack down on Tobacco Road, we can stem the flow of money going out of our state and into the pockets of criminals.” The American Cancer Society has endorsed the bill, which was passed out of committee unanimously and will now be considered by the full Senate. ###
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