House backs off surcharge on low-cost cigarettes
After 165 workers from Dosal tobacco's Miami plant and its Lakeland, Tampa, Daytona Beach and Jacksonville distribution centers spent the night traveling to Tallahassee to protest a House plan to impose a 45-cents per pack tax on their low-cost cigarettes, House leaders have reversed its position.
Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, met with the group this morning at a meeting room in the Governor's Club and told them he has received a commitment from Speaker Larry Cretul and speaker designate Dean Cannon that the House will not continue its budget position.
"I told them that Speaker Cretul has assured me that the House of Representatives will continue fighting to exclude that issue from any budget negotiations,'' Rivera said.
The measure would impose a tobacco surcharge on the companies that were not a part of the 1997 settlement agreement with the nation's largest tobacco companies. The bill had never gotten a hearing in either the House or Senate but appeared in a budget offer from the House delivered to the Senate late Tuesday by House chief negotiator, Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Haven.
Photo: Dosal employees from around the state march to the Capitol on Friday.
Since the settlement, Dosal's market share in Florida has soared from 3 percent ot 18 percent and the company now sells its cigarettes at wholesale at $1.95 per pack, after the 62-cents per pack increase in the federal cigarette tax. That is significantly lower than major companies, whose wholesale cigarettes now start at about $3.50 per pack.
Bud Chiles, the son of the late Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, said Friday that legisaltors should impose the cigarette tax and steer the money to the health care fund that the tobacco settlement monies go. The Lawton Chiles endowment fund was designed to set aside money for state health care needs but, in the last year, legislators and the governor have raided the account to balance the budget.
Chiles said Dosal and other cigarette companies that were not part of the original settlement agreement should be required to pay into the account just as the nation's top three tobacco companies do.
"The way they've been able to increase their market share is by selling cheap cigarettes to kids and teenagers,'' he said. "They can afford 45 cents. It's not going to put them out of business. That's a fair share to pay for the health care issues and illnesses they cause.''
Workers say their jobs could be threatened if the 45-cents per pack increase will be imposed. "We're fighting for our lives,'' said Dave Arjune, 32, a Dosal delivery man from Miami. "All of us have been with this company for years and years. We're trying to save our jobs.''
David Quinn, 50, a Dosal salesman from Lakeland said he came to protest because "we're starting to feel picked on,'' he said. "Everytime the state falls short of money they always come to tobacco. Now they're targeting our company. Every year we fight the same fight.''