NYC Law Department: U.S. Postal Service Makes Significant Progress to Prevent Illegal Cigarette Deliveries Through its Facilities Following Legal Settlement

March 30, 2023

New York City Corporation Counsel Sylvia O. Hinds-Radix today announced that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has made significant progress on reforms to prevent illegal cigarette deliveries through its facilities, following an August 2022 legal settlement. The reforms already achieved include replacement of the former practice of returning cigarettes found in the mail with a new policy to seize and destroy cigarette packages, along with reporting sender and recipient information to support enforcement efforts, and the appointment of a designated manager to oversee compliance with the settlement.

Pursuant to the settlement, USPS has formed a joint committee with representatives of each plaintiff to work towards implementing the remaining reforms required by the settlement. These improvements include upgraded technology and employee training aimed at better recognition and disposal of packages containing cigarettes.

“The City is pleased to see the Postal Service has implemented key portions of the legal agreement, and we will continue to work with them to ensure compliance with all of the terms of the settlement,” said New York City Corporation Counsel Sylvia O. Hinds-Radix. “The USPS should not be a conduit for illegal sales of untaxed cigarettes to New Yorkers which deprive federal, state, and local governments of billions of dollars in tax revenue.”

In the first quarter of 2023 USPS seized for destruction approximately 3,000 packages containing a total of 10,000 cartons of cigarettes shipped from overseas addresses in violation of U.S. law. The largest number — nearly 8,000 cartons — entered through the international postal facility at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Most shipments were mailed from China, Israel, and Russia and sent to addresses throughout the five boroughs and the other plaintiff states. Many addressees received packages of cigarettes at commercial mail drops in sufficiently large quantities that indicated the cigarettes were intended for re-sale.

Cigarette smoking is a leading cause of preventable premature death in the United States. Smoking kills more than 480,000 people nationwide annually, a figure that exceeds the combined number of deaths from alcohol, motor vehicle collisions, and firearms. According to the World Health Organization and numerous public health studies, maintaining high taxes on cigarettes is the most effective anti-smoking policy intervention, particularly among youth.

The City’s action against the USPS follows prior successful actions against Federal Express, United Parcel Service, and LaserShip, among others, for shipping cigarettes in violation of federal law.