More than half of the cigarettes sold in New York State are smuggled in from other places to avoid the Empire State’s taxes on smokes, which have soared nearly 200 percent since 2006, according to a report issued by the conservative Tax Foundation.

New York is the highest net importer of smuggled cigarettes illegal smokes account for 56.9 percent of the state’s total market. New York’s cigarettes tax is $4.35 per pack, the country’s highest. The situation there isn’t unique. The Tax Foundation also cites a study that found that 58.7 percent of discarded cigarettes found in five Northeastern cities lacked proper tax stamps.

Taxes on cigarettes, which are designed to discourage smoking, vary widely. States such as Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia have levies of less than a $1 per pack. These wide differences make smuggling “both a national problem and a lucrative criminal enterprise,” according to the Tax Foundation.

Antismoking activists have long argued that fewer people will buy cigarettes if they’re expensive. Chicago recently raised its cigarette taxes for that reason. Combined with state and local levies, the total is now $7.17 a pack.

The smuggling problem “is a lot smaller than the study lets on,” said Thomas Carr, director of national policy at the American Lung Association, noting that the Tax Foundation’s data come from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has received funding from the tobacco industry. “Tobacco companies are generally against higher tobacco taxes.”

In neighboring New Jersey, convenience store owners are fighting efforts by the state legislature to impose new taxes on e cigarettes that would nearly double their cost. E cigarettes fans tout them as a healthier alternative to conventional smokes.

Activists such as the American Lung Association, however, argue that no evidence backs up that claim and others, such as e cigarettes help people stop smoking regular cigarettes. Nonetheless, electronic smokes are surging in popularity, and experts note that should disparities in e cigarette taxes develop among the states, they could also become attractive to smugglers.

“I would imagine it would be easier to smuggle electronic cigarettes because they are smaller,” says Tax Foundation economist Scott Drenkard. “If you have any kind of differential, you are going to see arbitrage.”

Beyond interstate trade, cigarette smuggling is a global problem.

Last year, law enforcement officials seized $4.5 million worth of counterfeit Chinese cigarettes in Brooklyn, N.Y. Media reports indicate illicit cigarette production has soared in China in recent years.

Ukraine is another source of ill gotten smokes. According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the European country, currently involved in a dispute over Crimea with Russia, boasts the world’s cheapest cigarettes at $1.05 per pack.

Cars and trucks filled with Ukrainian made Marlboros and Viceroys get waved through border checkpoints by customs guards who seem more than eager to accommodate, for a price,” the consortium says. “Loads also move by bus and train, bound for other European countries where high taxes make packs cost as much as $5 (Germany) or $10 (United Kingdom).”

E-cigarette poisoning figures soar as vaping habit spreads across uk

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The number of people including very young children poisoned by swallowing e cigarette liquids containing nicotine rose sharply in the UK last year.

There were 139 calls by health professionals seeking expert advice on how to treat members of the public as the vaping habit rapidly spread.

The figures obtained by the Guardian from the National Poisons Information Service(NPIS) show that there were 29 such cases in 2012 and 36 over the five years before that.

The NPIS’s research indicated that over a third (36.5%) of calls involved very young children, 56% over 18s and the rest children of five and over and teenagers.

Most poisoning cases were accidental and symptoms, including vomiting, nausea, dizziness and abdominal pain, were usually short lived, according to the service’s director John Thompson.

“While any cases of poisoning are of concern, our previous research showed that fortunately fewer than one in ten of patients developed symptoms of toxicity which lasted more than four hours and only two patients had long lasting symptoms.

“However, just over a third of the telephone enquiries concerned children aged four and younger and of these, 10% developed symptoms which needed hospital care,” said Thompson.

“E cigarette usage has increased significantly in recent years. The liquid found in e cigarettes can be very harmful and I would urge anyone who uses e cigarettes to make sure that the liquids are stored safely, and in particular away from children.”

The figures obtained by the Guardian come after health warnings from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which has seen big increases in calls to poison centres involving e cigarettes from one a month in September 2010 to 215 in February this year. Unlike the British figures, these included calls from the public as well as health professionals, and also covered cases of inhalation and absorption through the skin and eyes.

Sweden too has reported increases in e cigarette poisoning.

The NPIS figures come as EU countries prepare to tighten controls over e cigarettes and some companies opt to seek costly licensing as medicines, which they would need to back up any claim they help tobacco smokers to quit.

The Welsh government is considering whether e cigarettes should be banned from public places, and a new law banning sales to under 18s in England and Wales is expected to be implemented soon.

The first e cigarettes in the UK went on sale in 2005 and now are used by at least 2m people, according to Katherine Devlin, of the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association(Ecita), a UK body with 26 companies in membership.

She said the existing EU regulations covering the safety of products and chemicals should reassure the public. Manufacturers were already meant to warn e cigarette users that liquids in e cigarette cartridges could be toxic if swallowed or in contact with the skin and urge them to keep them locked up and out of reach of children.

But trading standards officers were not always enforcing the rules, leaving room for “cowboys” to exploit consumers, Devlin said. Manufacturers and retailers operating illegally and not providing appropriate childproof packaging and labelling should be pursued by authorities although she recognised council trading standards officers had suffered public spending cuts.

“We need access to these products but they need to be safe, properly tested and properly sold,” said Devlin.

Ecita says the new rules will mean many e cigarettes currently on the market will be banned and make new types less attractive and harder to use. They are expected to be detailed in a directive next month and will be phased in from 2016.

These will require more information on nicotine content, including its toxicity and addictiveness, new controls over liquid refills, powers for member states and Brussels to act where there are “justified safety concerns”, and better monitoring of growing e cigarette market.

The Department of Health said “We recently passed legislation to ban the sale of e cigarettes to under 18s. Like any nicotine product, we want to keep e cigarettes out of the hands of young children and are now working to put measures into place to ensure that new European tobacco regulations are implemented properly.”