Senecas Unlikely to Overturn Internet Cigarette Ban

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Senecas Unlikely to Overturn Internet Cigarette Ban

ALBANY, N.Y. -- A federal court judge ruled that Seneca Indians are "unlikely to succeed" in overturning the state's ban on Internet sales of cigarettes by Native American vendors to non-Indians, according to an Associated Press report.

U.S. District Judge William Skretny did grant a temporary restraining order against enforcement of the state ban on Internet sales of cigarettes to Indians on the Seneca reservation. He said the Senecas stood a good chance of proving in court that the state ban violates their sovereignty by regulating shipments of cigarettes by any dealer off the reservation to tribe members living on the reservation, the Associated Press reported.

The decision means the state will enforce its ban on Internet sales of cigarettes, most of which ended up in the hands of minors trying to avoid face-to-face sales, said state Assistant Attorney General Stephen Gawlik.

The lawsuit and another related suit seek to have the state's 2000 law prohibiting the shipment of cigarettes to most individuals in New York declared unconstitutional. The suit was filed on behalf of two Seneca Indian Nation tobacco retailers, Anna Ward and her Big Indian Smoke Shop and Barry Snyder Jr. and his JR's Smoke Shop, according to the Associated Press.

The cash-strapped state began enforcing the law in June as a way of capturing an estimated $400 million in sales tax lost every year because of Internet sales, the report said.

State tax officials had said one way of extracting sales taxes on Indian cigarette sales could be to tax the shipments before they reach the reservation.

State and Seneca attorneys are scheduled to meet again Tuesday, three days before the temporary restraining order is to expire, according to the court decision. Indian business operators had asked Skretny for the order while their constitutional challenge is argued in court.