NEDROW, N.Y. -- The Onondaga Nation has joined the growing number of Indian tribes making their own cigarettes, reported The Post-Standard. The nation smokeshop in Nedrow, N.Y., has been giving away a free pack of Eagles cigarettes with the purchase of a carton of other brands.
Onondaga nation leader and Tadodaho Sid Hill said the Onondaga have started rolling their own to avoid paying and collecting state taxes on national name brand cigarettes. They are following the lead of the Seneca, Mohawk and Oneida tribes, all of whom roll their own and avoid the state tax system entirely, said the report.
Hill said the Onondaga plan to start selling the cigarettes in a month or two.
"We're still getting some feedback on them," Hill told the newspaper. "We're still testing the flavors to see what [customers] like."
New York charges a tax of $4.35 per pack, or $43.50 per carton. After decades of trying to get tribes to collect the taxes, the state last summer won a court case that upheld regulations requiring wholesalers to pay the tax upfront and then collect from the tribes, the report said.
The tribes refused to buy taxed cigarettes and stopped selling national brands. Marlboros, Camels and other national brands disappeared from Indian cigarette stories, replaced by sell Indian-made brands such as Seneca and Niagara. Without the state taxes, the Native American cigarettes sell for about half the price of national brands.
The decades-long attempt by the state to collect taxes on cigarettes sold on Indian land has led instead to a rapid expansion of tribes making and selling their own brands more cheaply, the paper said.
State officials have continued to that even cigarettes made on reservations are subject to tax when sold to non-Indians. Last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration said state law subjects cigarettes without proper tax stamps to seizure.
"This administration is enforcing the law and we will continue to do so," Cuomo spokesperson Richard Azzopardi told the Post-Standard this week..
The Onondaga smokeshop and its drive-through window are busy selling cigarettes to non-Indians, according to the report. The same is true with other tribes' shops, it added.
The nations also are shipping cigarettes off Indian territory for eventual sale at the smokeshops of other nations. At the Onondaga smoke shop, for example, the best-selling brand is Seneca.
Hill said the Onondagas have not applied for permits from the federal government require of tobacco manufacturers, said the report.
"We're a sovereign nation," he said.
The Eagles cigarettes are being manufactured in several flavors in a building across Route 11 from the smokeshop. Hill said five or six people are working there now, and that will increase to six to seven per shift. He said he did not know how many shifts the plant would have.
The Oneida nation in 2008 bought a cigarette plan in western New York and later moved it to Oneida territory. Several manufacturers produce cigarettes on Seneca Indian Nation lands, the report said.