Brooklyn Cracks Down on Smuggled Cigs

By Nina Puro 01/31/13

Despite worrying reports on Chinese knock-offs, Brooklyn smokers tell The Fix they still like 'em cheap, no questions asked.

Some of the seized cartons via

Any New Yorker who smokes knows cigarettes are costly, at around $12 a pack. But there are ways to get them cheap; at some bodegas in parts of Brooklyn, for example, they're a mere $7.50. "There are also sometimes people hawking them on the street," one Brooklyn smoker tells The Fix. "There's a guy on 125th chanting 'Newports, Newports' by a bus stop, and another I've seen lugging around trash bags-full in the West Village. Three bodegas on one corner near me that have them cheap." But this might not be the case for much longer: Last week, the Brooklyn District Attorney's office seized 30,000 cartons of counterfeit cigarettes—worth around $4.5 million—from a Borough Park warehouse. Although the bust netted just one arrest—alleged ringleader Yin Huan Zhao—King's County DA Charles Hynes says his team has stopped a "drain on the city and state economy, because these cigarettes are entirely untaxed." The taxes alone on them would have been worth about $1.8 million. Tellingly, the official investigators were assisted by cigarette manufacturer Phillip Morris USA. 

Disturbingly the counterfeit smokes, including major American and Chinese brands, are reportedly sometimes dried in China by rolling trucks over tobacco leaves on the ground. There is "no way of knowing what chemicals they contain," adds HynesOur Brooklyn smoker she hopes her cheap cigarettes aren't truck-dried Chinese counterfeits. "That's gross...and besides, I want mine to stick around. I know they're probably not I've been hoping they're real but trucked up illegally," she tells us. But she can't be sure: "The guy behind the counter is kinda shady about it—he goes to a back room to get them and looks nervous. Another place I asked for them once said they didn't have them because they're 'made in people's cribs in the projects over there.'"

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Nina Puro is a regular contributor to The Fix. Her poetry and essays have appeared in publications such as Third CoastPleiades and Harper Palate. You can find Nina on Linkedin or follow her on Twitter.