Patrick Fleenor reported in a 2003 study for the Cato Institute that New York’s cigarette taxes had created a thriving black market, with rising levels of street crime, turf wars and increasing organized crime. He found that from 1990 to 2002, as the city and state repeatedly raised taxes, New York’s sales of taxed cigarettes relative to the national average plummeted. But reported smoking rates fell only slightly, in line with national trends. Obviously a lot of New York smokers were getting their fix from the black market.
A 2013 study by the Mackinac Center found, not surprisingly, that New York had the highest rate of cigarette smuggling, totaling 61% of the state’s cigarette sales.
Eric Garner was a small part of that black market. He sold individual cigarettes – “loosies” – on the street to people without much money. It’s easier for police to apprehend street sellers than interstate organized crime. Thus his long record of arrests. And the more laws we pass, the more chances there are for people to run afoul of the police. Especially when we outlaw peaceful activities, such as smoking marijuana, selling untaxed cigarettes or feeding the homeless.