ACS Files Amicus Brief in Seneca Case

from the American Cancer Society
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For Immediate Release:

Health Groups Ask Court to Consider Public Health in Native American Cigarette Tax Evasion Case
American Cancer Society signs on to Amicus Brief; Higher Prices Mean Fewer Smokers and Less Cancer Death

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Additional Resources:
NYS Tobacco Tax Evasion Fact Sheet >>>
Read the full Amicus Brief >>>
Statement on Injunction Against State Tax Plan >>>

Buffalo, NY (September 2, 2010) The American Cancer Society today urged a federal district court judge to recognize that the flood of illegal, untaxed cigarette sales is a deadly health hazard as he considers a key tax case involving the Seneca Nation.

The Society, along with several other health groups, have requested permission to submit information regarding the negative public health impact that the sale of untaxed cigarettes has on the State of New York and its residents in the case of the Seneca Nation of Indians v. David Paterson, now before Judge Richard Arcara of the Western New York District Court in Buffalo. The Seneca are asking the judge to prevent implementation of state excise tax collection on cigarettes shipped to Indian reservations.

“Though the talk is all about commerce, land claims and sovereignty,” said Donald Distasio, CEO, American Cancer Society of NY & NJ, “this is about how tax-free cigarettes sold through Indian retailers are slowly killing thousands of New Yorkers right now. We simply can no longer turn a blind eye to the public health menace that continues to creep across this state.”

Increasing the cost of cigarettes so fewer people purchase them is a proven public health strategy to reduce the devastation caused by tobacco. Higher cigarette prices deter young people from smoking, provide incentive for adult smokers to quit, and reduce overall consumption of tobacco products. Higher prices, by the way of taxes, save lives, spare grief and mitigate the social and economic costs of tobacco addiction. Failure to collect taxes on cigarettes sold through Indian retailers to non-Indians undermines the public health benefits achieved by reducing demand through higher prices. New York is scheduled to begin collecting the excise tax on cigarettes from tobacco wholesalers (before products are sold to retailers) on September 1, 2010.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 100,000 adult smokers would quit and state revenues would increase at least $500 million per year if New York were to collect this legal tax on Indian cigarette sales.

The health groups made their case in a motion to file an amicus curiae, or a “friend of the court” brief, in which parties offer to present information that may not be otherwise considered by the court. Since tobacco use is the nation’s most prevalent cause of premature death, disease and disability, the health groups believe it is important for this legal dispute be considered in the context of the public health interests of New York State. Those public health interests include that this year:

· Smoking will kill more than 25,000 adult smokers in New York
· 85,000 children under 18 will try cigarettes for the first time and nearly 21,000 young New Yorkers will become regular, daily smokers
· Health care related costs directly caused by smoking will total $8.17 billion in New York
· 14 percent of Medicaid expenditures are for smoking-caused illnesses in New York

Joining the American Cancer Society, Eastern Division in the motion are the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (the national Society's advocacy arm), the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Lung Association in New York, The American Legacy Foundation and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. Attorney Marc Panepinto, of the Buffalo law firm Cantor, Lukasik, Dolce and Panepinto filed the motion in federal district court on behalf of the groups. The firm’s services were provided on a pro bono basis.


About the American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society combines an unyielding passion with nearly a century of experience to save lives and end suffering from cancer. As a global grassroots force of more than three million volunteers, we fight for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community. We save lives by helping people stay well by preventing cancer or detecting it early; helping people get well by being there for them during and after a cancer diagnosis; by finding cures through investment in groundbreaking discovery; and by fighting back by rallying lawmakers to pass laws to defeat cancer and by rallying communities worldwide to join the fight. As the nation’s largest non-governmental investor in cancer research, contributing about $3.4 billion, we turn what we know about cancer into what we do. As a result, more than 11 million people in America who have had cancer and countless more who have avoided it will be celebrating birthdays this year. To learn more about us or to get help, call us anytime, day or night, at 1-800-227-2345 or visit


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