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NYC's high cigarette tax blamed for Eric Garner's death

The New York City police restraint that led to the death of Eric Garner got the tax world's attention immediately after the tragedy. Officers confronted Garner because he was selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

Now a potential 2016 presidential candidate is citing the tax connection.


Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) says Garner's death is symbolic of the larger problem of politicians levying taxes on things like cigarettes.

Paul, who's reportedly eyeing a run for the White House in two years, spoke about the incident Wednesday night on MSNBC's Hardball program. Earlier in the day, a grand jury declined to indict any officers in connection with Garner's choking death.

Paul told show host Chris Matthews that the video of the police chokehold was horrifying. But, added the junior Senator from the Bluegrass State, "there's something bigger than just the individual circumstances."

"Obviously the individual circumstances are important, but I think it's also important to know that some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes, so they've driven cigarettes underground by making them so expensive," said Paul.

The ultimate blame, continued Paul, lies with politicians.

"Some politician also had to direct the police to say, 'Hey, we want you arresting people for selling a loose cigarette.' And for someone to die over breaking that law, there really is no excuse for it," Paul said. "But I do blame the politicians. We've put our police in a difficult situation with bad laws."

Tobacco taxes nationwide: New York the country's highest cigarette tax. The Empire State collects $4.35 per pack, with the Big Apple adding an additional $1.50 per pack.

According to data compiled by the Federation of Tax Administrators, as of Jan. 1 the U.S. median tax rate on a pack of smokes was $1.36. Every legislative session, however, some states consider hiking or expanding their tobacco tax rates.

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