Frances Dalton was just looking for a good deal when she purchased cigarettes from a business on an American Indian reservation in New York last fall. The 80-year-old retired artist ordered five cartons of Seneca full-flavor smokes over the phone for $13.49 each, roughly half what she would pay in her hometown of Newburyport, Mass.
But little did she know the deal would soon sting like smoke in her eyes. In February, Dalton received a bill from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue for $91.58 in taxes and late payment fees related to the cigarettes.
Dalton says she was “duped.” She was never told about any taxes when she made her purchase and didn’t believe any tax would be charged because she bought from an out-of-state vendor.
“It’s just a terrible abuse of power,” Dalton says of the state’s pursuit of a tax payment.
Not so, says Bob Bliss, a spokesman for the Department of Revenue: “If you buy cigarettes without a Massachusetts tax stamp on them, you are liable to pay the tax.”
Dalton is protesting the charges to state officials, but has paid them in the meantime to avoid any more penalties. For now, she says, she’s rolling her own cigarettes.
Michelle Diament is a freelance writer based in Memphis, Tenn.