Hunter seeks loophole to let troops get smokes

A Marine veteran in Congress wants to lift new restrictions on tobacco being sent through the mail so that families and friends can continue to send cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to troops in combat.

Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Calif., a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a former Marine captain who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, wants to create a combat zone loophole in a new law that is aimed at cracking down on illegal tobacco marketing via mail.

Effective June 17, tobacco products can be sent to APO and FPO address only by Express Mail from the U.S. Postal Service in packages of 10 ounces or less, with a maximum of 10 shipments to a single person in a 30-day period.

Express Mail isn’t available to most troops deployed in combat zones, so the effect of the law — the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act or PACT Act — has been to cut off tobacco shipments from home. The PACT Act was signed into law in March but the U.S. Postal Service did not get around to announcing the mailing restrictions until June.

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Hunter’s legislation, HR 6037, would allow tobacco products to be mailed to members of the armed forces in a combat zone. The bill also would waive restrictions on the size and number of packages that could be sent to troops in designated combat zones.

The bill, referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration, was introduced when the families of deployed service members approached Hunter after learning of the new restrictions.

The bill will not come to a vote anytime soon. Hunter introduced it on July 30, just as the House of Representatives was leaving for a six-week summer break.

“Combat personnel face considerable danger every day, making small comforts all the more the important,” said Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper. “At most bases, tobacco products are already available to U.S. troops. The legislation is more about those troops stationed at combat outposts who don’t have the luxury of stepping off the battlefield to buy a pack of cigarettes. The bill helps give troops access where it’s otherwise unavailable.”

The PACT Act wasn’t aimed at preventing troops from getting cigarettes or chew from home, but at preventing cigarette sales by mail that avoid paying state taxes, to stop the sale of tobacco products to minors and to shut down illegal trafficking in cigarettes, which is believed to be a way that some terrorist groups are making money.

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