Cigarettes - Are tax-free cigarettes really tax-free?

No. As a Washington resident, you owe cigarette tax and use tax if you purchase, possess, or distribute untaxed cigarettes in this state.

Cigarette tax is due when you bring untaxed cigarettes into Washington State regardless of the purpose (resale or personal use) or how they were purchased (Internet, mail order, or telephone). If you are the consumer, you also owe use tax.

When is the tax due?

Within 72 hours of receiving the untaxed cigarettes in Washington.

How do I pay the tax?

You must complete a Tax Declaration for Cigarettes.

How does Washington State enforce the cigarette tax?

The Department of Revenue and Liquor and Cannabis Board work together to educate consumers of their tax liability and to collect the taxes due.

The Jenkins Act is a federal law enacted in 1949 that requires sellers of cigarettes to provide information on each sale to states where goods are shipped. Under this act, companies that ship cigarettes to buyers in Washington State must send the Department of Revenue the name, address and quantity purchased for every cigarette buyer in this state.

The Department uses information obtained from cigarette sellers to notify Washington buyers of their tax liability.

What is the penalty for possessing untaxed cigarettes?

In addition to owing the unpaid tax, people who possess untaxed cigarettes may:

  • owe a penalty of either $10 per pack or $250 (whichever is greater).
  • have their cigarettes seized.
  • have their vehicle seized if it was used to transport untaxed cigarettes.

Under Washington law, it is a class C felony to be in possession of more than 60,000 untaxed cigarettes. In addition to the above penalties, conviction could result in jail time.

Click here to read more about cigarette tax.