Smoker Learns Too Late The Taxing Cost Of Online Cigarettes

Here's something you probably didn't know:

Remember that "Smokey and the Bandit Part 3" DVD you got from Amazon eight months ago? You were supposed to fork over the 6 percent Connecticut sales tax on that cinematic masterpiece by filling out Form OP-186 and sending it along with your check to the state Department of Revenue Services, P.O. Box 2973, Hartford, CT 06104-2973.

As you might have read in the papers, the state is holding out the tin cup these days for revenue, and this includes online purchases from out-of-state websites.

In fact, DRS officials tell us that you're even supposed to pay state sales tax (officially, it's called "use tax") on that Fort Ticonderoga refrigerator magnet your 8-year-old made you buy on the family vacation to Lake Champlain.

This brings us to this week's column, the unfiltered saga of Lorraine Kowalski, of Cheshire, formerly of Anaheim, Calif.

Kowalski is a former smoker. "It'll be two years this August 15th," she says.

But while she was a smoker, she found herself shopping online for smokes. Now, before we continue, we'd like to say here that if there's one group that gets more than their share of vilification, it's cigarette smokers.

They live in a shrinking world, where every month brings news of another place where they can't light up. Then there are the taxes on every pack -- $3 in Connecticut, $3.46 in Rhode Island and $4.35 in New York (plus an additional $1.88 in New York City). This is in addition to the federal tax of $1.01.

At the bodega two blocks from our newsroom, the El Mismo Primo No. 6 Grocery, a pack of Winstons ("tastes good like (sic) a cigarette should!") sells for $8.65. So it's no wonder that smokers are driven to desperation.

Which brings us to the tale of Lorraine Kowalski, who got a bill from the state for $1,243.51 for unpaid cigarette sales taxes -- and for two years of interest and penalties. She's fuming mad about the fact that when she got the bill, the fines and late penalties were already there; she wasn't given a chance to square up with the state on just the sales tax.

"The last company I ordered from online was being watched by the federal government for something they were doing wrong," she said. "So, they raided the place, and they found my name and address on their hard drive. I was ordering six cartons a month -- 46 in all."

That company was called Cigarettes Direct 2 U, aka CD2U, of 926 Ulrich Ave., Louisville, Ky. The company has since been shut down for selling clove cigarettes, illegal in the U.S. since Sept. 22, 2009.

Kowalski, for the record, paid the $1,243.51 bill.

Sarah Kaufman, the spokeswoman for the state Department of Revenue Services, told IYC the DRS has been trying to get the word out that when the state catches up with you for those out-of-state cigs you purchased you will be liable for the taxes and any fines.

"Despite what any of these websites might say, you're responsible upon receipt of the cheap cigarettes to pay the cigarette tax that you owe the state," she said. "Ignorance of the law is not a defense."

But she did admit that it might be a little difficult to find the correct form that you'll have to fill out to pay the Connecticut "stamp tax" on your out-of-state smokes (which is different than the aforementioned sales tax form). In fact, she had to walk your IYC team through the procedure on the DRS website to find the proper document, which is Form AU-75.

And, in case you're wondering, you'll have to send in this form with your check or money order within 24 hours of your online cigarette purchase.

We think that the DRS, and indeed the state of Connecticut, needs to take a look at its websites and make it easier for people to find the correct forms they need to pay taxes they might owe.





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