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Clamp-down on NYC roll-your-own

A roll-your-own tobacco company in New York sells cigarettes for a third of the normal price. Now the city wants to shut it down for tax evasion.

A combination of heavy taxes and bans on public smoking have made New York a virtually smokeless city.

But two Island Smokes stores in Manhattan and Staten Island sell loose tobacco and tubes to customers who use machines on site to roll their own cigarettes.

The finished product looks virtually identical to a pre-packaged cigarette but costs a third as much, in part because taxes on loose tobacco are far lower than on manufactured cigarettes.

City authorities say the stores enable tax evasion, and have filed a federal lawsuit against the stores, accusing them of "illegally selling low-priced cigarettes" and hindering the city's efforts to get people to quit smoking.

And public health experts challenge claims by the stores' owner that the "organic" tobacco cigarettes are less harmful than the mass-market packs.

"The products of burning, the ash, the carbon dioxide and the carbon monoxide will be inhaled regardless of added chemicals being present or absent in the cigarette," says Deanna Jannat-Khah, director of a quit-smoking programme at New York University.

Produced by Anna Bressanin, images by Ilya Shnitser