Nebraska Trying to Collect Back Taxes on Cigarettes Bought on Internet, Through Mail

The state of Nebraska has sent letters to more than 500 residents telling them they owe taxes for cigarettes they bought through the mail or over the Internet.

One of them, Cleo Bell of Adams, doesn't think the state cigarette tax is a fair tax. "We are already taxed to death on cigarettes," he said.

The 74-year-old buys cigarettes four cartons at a time through the mail by calling an 800 number.

The seller didn't collect the state cigarette tax of 64 cents a pack, nor the sales tax, but the law requires Bell to report those purchases and pay those taxes.

But now the state is collecting them, based on reports from the seller.

In July the state sent letters to 112 people who owed a total of $175,000. State tax commissioner Doug Ewald says about $100,000 has been paid so far.

On Aug. 16, 406 Nebraskans who owed more than $100 in back cigarette taxes were sent state letters. By the middle of last week, about $40,000 had been paid of the $190,000 those people owe, Ewald said.

Responding to one of the letters, estate representatives for one of the cigarette buyers sent in a copy of his death certificate. Ewald said the listed cause of death was lung cancer.

Bell said he's hoping to file a class-action suit against the tax, and he said the state collection efforts were unfair to smokers.

Nebraska doesn't go to such lengths to collect the sales tax owed by people who buy other products through the mail, he said.

Federal law requires those who sell and ship cigarettes into states to report those sales to the states.

But there's no such requirement for other sales, so states don't have the same database for such collection efforts, Ewald said.

It doesn't cost much to collect the cigarette tax from individuals, he said, because the sales information comes free from the sellers.

"Just pennies for every dollar collected," Ewald said.