Yesmoke Under Siege at the JFK Airport in New York City

There are some problems in clearing online sales from Customs… A few days following the market debut of Yesmoke cigarettes, at New York's JFK Airport dozens of agents seized some cigarettes … even though they had the required customs declaration.

There had never been a blitz like this against regular mail: no less than nine federal state and local agencies held an interminable inspection at the JFK Airport that left senders and addressees of all the mail coming from Switzerland waiting and without news. At the same time, newspapers and televisions programs, referring to the blitz against contraband, spread panic among those people who had bought cigarettes on-line. But federal law does not forbid American citizens from purchasing cigarettes by mail from foreign countries. To comply with all legal obligations the buyer only has to ensure that the package is accompanied by the customs declaration, nothing more. The rest is up to the customs! Yesmoke is reimbursing all its customers who had cartons blocked at JFK, taking on a loss of some millions of dollars. Meanwhile, the production of the new brand with 100% natural tobacco will not be changed.

Two Sentences

  1. There is the sum of 17 million dollars of back-taxes on the cigarettes sold by the Yesmoke shop in New York according a recent sentence of the Court of New York, that is to be paid by Yesmoke. – It appears that the US Customs, department is unable to ask for import duties, and so the bill is sent to Yesmoke, that has become a handy, easy-to-reach subject.
  2. Yesmoke allegedly imported into the US Marlboro cigarettes meant for the European market. There is a sentence for Copyright Infringement and Unfair Competition of the Court of the Southern District of N.Y. with which, always avoiding any consultation with Swiss justice, Philip Morris has enjoined the Yesmoke site to cease “importing” into the US PM cigarettes meant for the European market.

Philip Morris wants US smokers to smoke the Marlboros made for them, that are different from those produced for smokers who live in the European Community and in Switzerland. But they refuse to talk about the differences between these products: this is a tightly kept secret. Basically they want Yesmoke to censor its pages to the US customers to “safeguard” these differences. We cannot accept this! Yesmoke has always refused and hence the seizure. But the importer is not Yesmoke: it is the US smokers. Philip Morris should speak with them.

Let’s Make Things Clear

  • Shipping cigarettes is legal in the USA, based on the Universal Postal Convention dated September 15, 1999. These provisions have been ratified by both the United States and Switzerland and cigarettes are among the permitted products. By forbidding these shipments, the United States is violating the above agreements.
  • The goods, it being understood that in the USA just as in Switzerland there is the right to return to the sender any product bought by mail if for any reason it is not satisfactory, are already paid for and therefore, are the property of the addressees; they cannot be used to handle controversies with a third party company.
  • The confiscation and destruction of products are illegal: they are acts that violate the citizen’s right, guaranteed by Federal Law, to legally import products from abroad. And cigarettes are listed among the products that can be imported this way.
  • An eventual decision to start asking for the payment of duty taxes is the only reasonable and legal action. In this case the correct procedure would be to permit the collection of the goods after the payment by the buyer of the required tax, returning to the sender any product that is not accepted.

From the Swiss Point of View

In Switzerland people are talking about Yesmoke, with its disclosed recipe, in positive terms. Not only because it is in strident contrast with Philip Morris, that refuses to hand over the list of the ingredients of its cigarettes to the authorities, threatening to pull out of Switzerland with its general headquarters, but also in the light of what has been called by The Observer “Big Tobacco’s Last Battle.” It is the biggest civil racketeering trial in the USA brought by the Justice Department, government lawyers are suing for 280 billion dollars.

Don’t Give In

Today credit card payments, that can be made in any country regardless of the currency, have, in effect, abolished national borders. Therefore, it is ridiculous to think that a citizen, who is the real importer, would discipline himself and abstain from buying on Internet products that are legally sold in other countries, just because they not destined by the manufacturer to his specific market. And it is absurd to have to passively accept a product whose ingredients have never been made known to the authorities or to the consumers. And it is unreasonable to think that it must be the online sellers who have to disentangle themselves from the thousands of vetoes and prohibitions of manufacturers, to know which web page has to be censored for each specific country.



The US customs have left unanswered all the import requests that accompany all Yesmoke packages and for almost 5 years, the packages were delivered without any request for duty-tax.

June 20th 2004

The accrued tax is requested from a handy subject, in this case, the sender:, not from the real importer who is in fact the buyer. The correct procedure would be to ask the purchaser to pay the required tax when he picks up the goods, eventually returning to the sender any uncollected product.

July 20th 2004

Yesmoke did not appear in court to defend itself from the absurd charge of cigarette contraband, as all of its packets are provided with customs declarations. So a sentence of the Court of the City of New York, issued in record time and based on a very rough calculation, decided the amount of the taxes that Yesmoke should pay: 17 million dollars. continues to ship.

November 16th 2004

on the eve of the introduction of Yesmoke’s new brand of cigarettes, someone began to think about duty taxes on products coming from Switzerland. On the 16th, the next day, the seizure began of Yesmoke cigarettes at JFK. The authorities seized products that were property of the addressees to put right a controversy with the seller (Yesmoke). So all the mail coming from Switzerland is wrongfully stopped and delayed for weeks. Furthermore, according to laws enacted following September 11th, there is no obligation to give out any information as long as the operation is under way.

December 2004

Yesmoke reimburses buyers for all the goods blocked by the interminable confiscation:

“If the goods are not delivered, there is a 100% money-back guarantee.”

The Opinion

There is not the will or the intention to make rules for online commerce in the interest of the citizen. On the other hand, the application of customs duties on products acquired by mail, without any surcharge or penalization, would be the appropriate solution in the interest of all the parties.

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