Wis. Dept. of Revenue Issues Notice to RYO Retailers

WPMCA says it supports efforts to eliminate tax loophole

MADISON, Wis. -- The Wisconsin Department of Revenue is issuing notice to roll-your-own (RYO) cigarette retailers across the state that they must follow Wisconsin law and regulations if operating a RYO machine. The agency said that it is taking this action to protect responsible small businesses that are following the state's laws and regulations, and it encourages RYO retailers to voluntarily comply with the law.

The Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association (WPMCA) issued a statement saying that it supports the department "moving forward with recommendations to close a tax loophole that allows some Wisconsin businesses to bypass state and federal tobacco laws for RYO cigarettes. Closing the loophole will protect millions of dollars in revenue for the state."

The department estimated that there are approximately 50 to 100 RYO machines in Wisconsin, based upon online retailer information and reports to the agency.

According to state law, if a retailer or the retailer's customer operates a RYO machine on the retailer's premises to make cigarettes with loose tobacco, the retailer is both a cigarette manufacturer and distributor.

State law requires the retailer to:

  • Obtain both manufacturer and distributor permits from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. A retailer needs the cigarette manufacturer permit because its business involves producing cigarettes with loose tobacco, as well as a distributor permit to ensure that all cigarette packages the customer leaves the retail premises with are affixed with the appropriate Wisconsin cigarette tax stamps.
  • Sell more than 50% of the RYO cigarettes wholesale to other retailers or vending machine operators, and retailers cannot own, control or operate these other entities. This is necessary only if retailers wish to continue selling RYO cigarettes directly to customers.
  • Obtain certification from the Wisconsin Department of Justice to be placed on its approved directory of cigarettes for sale in Wisconsin in order to comply with state law and regulations.
  • Obtain certification from the Wisconsin Department of Safety & Professional Services that these cigarettes meet the fire safety performance standards.

The department said that it has notified retailers about their legal obligations by sending them a notice by certified mail. Revenue agents will also be going on site to the RYO retailers.

"We support the administration's effort to close this tax loophole," said Matt Hauser, president of the WPMCA. "It's also an issue of fairness. Manufacturers and our retail members are required by law to collect taxes on cigarettes. It's time to close this loophole and have everyone play by the same rules."

Each machine represents approximately $378,000 in lost tax revenue per year, according to the association. In 2011, the state could lose close to $19 million, it added.

The RYO machines may also violate the tobacco settlement agreement, WPMCA said, leading to potential litigation and additional lost revenue. Several other states, including Michigan, Arkansas and Connecticut, have instituted new policies related to RYO cigarettes.

WPMCA represents more than 2,000 locally owned, independent petroleum marketers, convenience store owners, truckstop and travel plaza operators, automotive oil change outlets and other automotive service providers throughout Wisconsin.

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