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New York’s Indians Try to Fend Off the (Marlboro) Man: A Court Fight Over Smoking Rights

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Hasn’t America already doled out a terrible hand to the Indians already without trying to make them a part of their eugenics and assimilation? Apparently not. Today, the Seneca Nation Indians have to fight off New York State from taxing cigarette purchases made by non-Indians on their reservations.

Mind you, the reason they’re reservations in the first place is because the American government displaced the shit out of them in order to, well, become America. A Buffalo judge (no, not a furry one, but one in Buffalo, New York) is hearing a case on the matter today, and a state appellate court is hearing the issue today as well. The AP via the the Buffalo News reports:

Judge Richard Arcara in Buffalo is scheduled to hear from several witnesses beginning Tuesday before deciding whether to continue to block the state from enforcing new tax rules on the western New York tribe and the nearby Cayuga Nation, which joined the legal action. A temporary order is already in place. Meanwhile, a state appellate court in Rochester is also grappling with the issue. A decision could come anytime on whether the state can impose the $4.35-per-pack tax on any of the nine New York tribes battling to preserve their tax-free cigarette businesses.

If the Indians lose — which, given every previous instance in American history, they will — you will have to provide legal, tribal identification in order to not have to pay the tax on cigarettes. The tragic thing(s) about this?

  • Both the highest concentration of smokers in New York State and the people who are generating the most revenue from cigarette taxes — New York City residents — can just hop over to New Jersey, and buy them there.
  • Our state and city, both of which are broke, need this tax revenue. Yet, among other issues, high prices have cut smokers in New York down in numbers by 35 percent.
  • Higher taxes recently only generated $6M more in tax revenue. That’s not much, especially when you consider the fact that potential state revenue is going elsewhere. Like Jersey.

Most New Yorkers looking to get their bootleg cigs do, in fact, cross state lines. In Pennsylvania, you can catch a pack for $5, or in Jersey, for $7. New York government is trying to snuff out state debt, when really, they’re just screwing the Indians some more. Why? Why not? They’re an easy crowd to screw because they’ve been marginalized throughout American history, and, really, why stop now? Adding insult to injury, the Indians aren’t just having to sell a product that isn’t their own to recoup money lost by a country that was once their own but isn’t any more, but are having the taxes that aren’t their own imposed on them, too. It’s just cruel.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]

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