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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida Senate approves cigarette tax 39-0 with a twist for cigars



The Senate pushed ahead on its plan for a $1 per pack increase in the cigarette tax Thursday, voting 39-0 for a bill entitled "Protecting Florida's Health'' that raises $1 billion.

The measure includes a $1 per ounce surcharge on all cigars and smokeless tobacco in Florida, and its sponsor, Sen. Ted Deutch, said it has the potential to avoid $4 billion in tobacco-related illnesses in Florida.

"Make this bill a celebration of life,'' said Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat. "It will responsibly address our health care budget and, most importantly, this bill will save lives.''

Senators changed the bill to shield Tampa Bay's cigar manufacturers and Miami's cigarette maker, Dosal Tobacco. The change would apply the surcharge only to tobacco sold in Florida, effectively exempting all tobacco manufacturered in Florida but shipped out of state.

"We are letting a lot of pressure off of our cigar industry in particular,'' said Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who heads the Senate budget committee. The change will eliminate 85 to 95 percent of the surcharge on the production of cigars in Florida, he said. "The Senate clearly heard the concerns for those manufacturing jobs.'' 

Sen. Evelyn Lynn, an Ormond Beach Republican, suggested that people could continue to go across the border and buy cheaper cigarettes and increase the costs of enforcement.

"There could be an increase in enforcement costs created by this surcharge,'' Alexander admitted. "We're focusing our attention on tobacco that will be consumed in Florida.''

Sen. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican, asked why cigarette makers, like Dosal Tobacco, which do not pay into the state tobacco settlement fund because they were not part of the settlement agreement with the state, are not required to pay.

Alexander responded that the Senate bill "treats all tobacco products exactly the same'' and suggested that targeting Dosal - which has widespread support from the Miami legislative delegation - might not help the Senate get the cigarette tax passed.

"To me there was a level of angst and difficulty to what is a difficult issue already,'' he said. "These revenues are very important to building our budget."

Sens. Arthenia Joyner and Victor Crist also withdrew an amendment to remove the tax on cigars but said it is still needed to preserve the cigar rolling industry and the homegrown cigar companies from Jacksonville to Miami.

"It is the lifeblood of little Havana,'' Joyner said. "They sit around and enjoy cigars.''

Senators agreed to amend the bill to soften the restrictions on the sale of tax-free cigarettes by the Seminole or Miccosukee tribes. The bill had required that all tax-free cigarettes sold by the tribe be labeled "Indian cigarettes" and anyone caught possessing them who was not a tribal member would pay a $1,000 fine. Instead, they agreed to a measure to give tribal members tax-exempt coupons to obtain tax-free cigarettes as opposed to the original plan.

The Senate also imposed new restrictions on cigarettes sold over the Internet to make sure they don't get into the hands of anyone under age 18.


[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 7:37pm]


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