Despite all we know and the plethora of anti-smoking campaigns, the US still dearly loves its tobacco. And even though the plant is grown in large amounts on US soil, there are still many tobacco products imported from other countries. The first step toward importing cigarettes and other tobacco products into the states is to file for a permit from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB. You can get an importer’s packet as well as find more information on the TTB’s website. If you just want a little tobacco for your own personal stash, Customs and Border Patrol is the body that will determine whether the amount you are bringing home from vacation is allowable.
Tobacco products run the gamut from canisters of roll-your-own tobacco, cigars, snuff, and more. Each of these products, as well as the paraphernalia needed to use them such as rolling papers, has its own tax rate. To find the rate for the product you wish to import, visit the TTB’s tobacco tax rate page. The duty/tariff on tobacco (in Chapter 24 of the HTS) can be found using the government data base here. Find your tobacco product’s category on the left, click on it, and you’ll be able to see the duty rates for the countries of origin in the first column on the right, if that country has “Normal Trade Relations (NTR)” with the US. Be careful to look for special sub-columns, as many countries will have special duty rates if they have trade agreements with the US. If the country does not have Normal Trade Relations with the United States, you’ll find it in the second column – some industry people refer to these countries as “Column Two” countries. Reading the HTS columns can be confusing, so the US government has written a helpful guide here. A packing list and invoice will be needed to clear customs, and should be given to you by your supplier.
Because tobacco is an “adult” product, packaging of the product is highly regulated. Tobacco products and the tubes or papers used to consume cannot contain coupons or “indecent pictures” or any statement that implies the tax on the product has been paid. For smokeless tobacco such as chew, as well as pipe or roll-your-own tobacco, the weight should be printed on the package. Cigars and cigarettes labels are required to have the number of individual pieces inside the package, and the classification of the product as “small” or “large” for taxing purposes.
The exception to the rule are tobacco products that come from Puerto Rico. These products will have different tax rates.
Excise taxes differ for Puerto Rican cigarette paper and tubes, and are paid into Puerto Rico’s treasury. Tobacco products can be considered Puerto Rican if a) they are manufactured there, b) the cost of the materials and the cost to make the product equals (or exceeds) half of the product’s American value.
The importer can pre-pay the tax in Puerto Rico before the cigarette products are shipped to the US. The importer can pay the tax on a semi-monthly basis. For more information, look at Subpart G of this government document.