At an average price of about $12.50, New Yorkers pay more for a pack of cigarettes than anyone else in the country. The high price is due in large part to a state cigarette tax, plus state sales tax, which essentially doubles the price of a pack that would otherwise retail for about six bucks.

The taxes are meant to discourage people from buying cigarettes at all, and take up healthier habits instead. But they may also have an unintended side effect – they’re encouraging some people to dodge the high prices with counterfeit coupons that allow them to get their smokes for next to nothing.

That’s precisely what authorities in Lake George, New York say has been happening in their area.

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office announced the arrest of 53-year-old Randolph Bray on Friday. The arrest was the result of a monthlong investigation that began back on December 15th. That’s when the Sheriff’s Office says employees of the Lake George Mini Mart, a combination convenience store and Exxon gas station, called to report a man they said was trying to use counterfeit coupons for Natural American Spirit cigarettes.

And the coupons were lucrative ones – they allowed the user to get a pack of cigarettes for just one dollar. Not one dollar off, mind you – just one dollar, period.


Too good to be true? Not really, as it turns out. Smokers who register with Natural American Spirit, which is owned by Reynolds American, can receive high-value coupons in the mail. And one of those coupons that the company sends out, really does offer “1 pack for $1”.

But the mini mart employees said Bray had been using the coupons regularly, since last summer. And Natural American Spirit doesn’t send out that many coupons to any one person.

You wouldn’t know it, based on how many purported Natural American Spirit coupons are out there. There are several crude fake printables on the Coupon Information Corporation’s list of known counterfeit coupons, dating back to 2010. But more recently, seemingly legitimate “1 pack for $1” coupons have shown up for sale on online auction sites.

The Sheriff’s Office wouldn’t say what led them to conclude that Bray’s coupons were counterfeit, and not legitimate ones from the company that he somehow managed to amass in bulk. But they went ahead and charged him with forgery, fraud and larceny. He was arraigned on Friday and released on his own recognizance.

“It is believed that Bray has passed additional forged American Spirit coupons throughout the region,” the Sheriff’s Office said. So their investigation continues.

If convicted, Bray faces a possible sentence of up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. If his coupons were indeed counterfeit, his efforts to get a discount on his cigarettes may have come at a very high price.

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