Butterworth: Its time to charge new tobacco fee
Former Attorney General Bob Butterworth told the Senate Finance and Tax Committee Wednesday that the companies not included in the original tobacco settlement, such as Hialeah's Dosal Tobacco, should not escape having to pay an equivalent fee into the Lawton Chiles Endowment fund. The seven settling tobacco companies now pay about 40-cents a pack to finance anti-tobacco programs and and state-funded health care.
"They've had 10 years, 12 years of free ride right now and now it's time,'' said Butterworth who was the state's lead negotiator on the 1996 tobacco settlement. "All companies knew the product was addictive and if used as intended it would kill people…I don’t think anybody in this business denies that their produc is not healthy. It’s not oreos and cookies."
His advice: charge them an equity fee that is "no more and no less" than the other settling companies. "Should other companies get a benefit because they can sell their cigarette cheaper?,'' he asked. "It’s enough. Now it’s just time to be fair.
Dosal CEO Yolanda Nader told the committee that if they impose a fee, the advantage big tobacco companies who will eat away at the market share of her home-grown company and hurt local jobs. It's not about quality, it's about price, she said. Her company will no longer be able to undercut the big brands on price. "If you can buy a Geo or Mercedes for the same price, which will you choose?'' she asked.