In the Black

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In the Black

NEW YORK -- New York City officials have seized more than 237,000 cartons of cigarettes since they began cracking down on stores selling tobacco without a license.

But smoker advocates say black-market sales will only grow in New York, where a tax hike has pushed cigarettes to $7.50 a pack and the mayor is waging a policy war against smoking, the Associated Press reported.

The city seized 11,871 packs -- or 237,420 individual cigarettes -- from 40 unlicensed sellers between February 2001 and February 2002, said Pansy Mullings, enforcement chief of the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Authorities say they worry unlicensed retailers are dodging cigarette sales taxes and selling tobacco products to minors. To obtain a license, sellers must agree to restrictions on signs and pledge not to sell to minors. The crackdown is evidence that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is serious in his "campaign against tobacco," Gretchen Dykstra, the city's commissioner of consumer affairs, told the Associated Press.

Although the crackdown concluded in February, the announcement Monday came amid Bloomberg's ongoing actions against smoking. He is also seeking to seeking to outlaw smoking in all bars and restaurants. New York City smokers have been hit this year by a hike in the city's cigarette tax from 8 cents to $1.50. With state and federal taxes, a pack of cigarettes costs up to $7.50 -- tops in the nation.

The result is that more smokers are buying cigarettes more cheaply off the Internet, at American Indian reservations and from unlicensed retailers, said Audrey Silk, founder of the smoker-rights group NYC CLASH. The city's Department of Finance will auction the seized cigarettes to wholesalers.

The cigarettes typically sell at auction for about $10 a carton, and the pile seized in the crackdown will earn the city nearly $14,000, said Martha Stark, the city finance commissioner, the report said.