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HomeNewsArchivesCHRISTENSEN WILL TALK TOBACCO AT WHITE HOUSE

CHRISTENSEN WILL TALK TOBACCO AT WHITE HOUSE

Delegate to Congress Donna Christian-Christensen will meet this week with representatives of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and U.S. Customs to try to find the quickest way to rescind a law that bans U.S. tourists from returning home with cigarettes or other tobacco products they buy in the Virgin Islands.
She was reacting to a story on the Source Tuesday about the new law, which took business and government leaders by surprise.
Christensen said the legislation was passed in 1997, and the provision concerning the re-importation of American tobacco to the U.S. mainland went into effect Jan. 1 of this year.
She said she is hoping for some sort of administrative waiver of the law for the territory. Barring that, she'll try for a repeal or amended legislation.
She was still researching the history of the proposal but said from what she understands, it was aimed at huge shipments coming in from Mexico. She described it as "one of those crazy things" that has an unintended effect.
The legislation was backed by Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Customs has enforcement responsibility.
It is still unclear how much the tobacco industry is worth to the Virgin Islands. Some estimates put it as high as $20 million. When the products come into the territory, the V.I. government collects excise taxes at a rate, Christensen said, of 23 percent. Then, wholesalers and retailers pay gross receipts taxes on their sales.
"Whatever the amount" of V.I. taxes, it is too much to lose, the delegate said.
Wednesday Christensen will be at the White House along with Gov. Charles Turnbull and representatives from other territories in a previously arranged meeting with officials from all federal agencies with responsibility for the territories. She said she plans to bring up the tobacco issue at the meeting.
Representatives of Bellows International and West Indies Corp., the two wholesalers in the territory who bring in American tobacco products, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
Customs recently began enforcing the new law in Florida as tourists returned from vacations. By last week, some cruise lines began informing their passengers about it.
Under the law, it is illegal to bring into the U.S. any tobacco products that were originally sold "for export only." The products bear a stamp identifying them.
The V.I. has for years enjoyed a special exemption from federal taxes, bringing in the "for export only" products and selling them to residents and to visitors at well below stateside prices. Cheap cigarettes have enhanced the territory's reputation as a good place for tourists to shop.

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