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Playing with Fire: Cigarettes, Taxes and Competition from the Internet

Sep 2007
Working Paper
07-002
By  Austan Goolsbee, Joel Slemrod
This paper documents the rise of the Internet as a source of cigarette tax competition for states in the United States. Using data on cigarette tax rates, taxable cigarette sales and individual smoking rates by state from 1980 to 2005 merged with data on Internet penetration, the paper documents that there has been a substantial increase in the sensitivity of taxable cigarette sales that is correlated with the rise of Internet usage within states. The estimates imply that the increased sensitivity from cigarette smuggling over the Internet has lessened the revenue generating potential of recent cigarette tax increases substantially. Given the continuing growth of the Internet and of Internet cigarette merchants, the results imply serious problems for state revenue authorities.