Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida Senate wants to restrict tax-free tobacco sales at Indian reservations

TALLAHASSEE — In an attempt to suppress the sale of tax-free cigarettes sold on Florida's Indian reservations, state senators want the tribe's smokes labeled "Indian cigarettes'' and any non-Indian caught with them forced to pay a $1,000 fine and face misdemeanor charges.

The provision was tacked onto a Senate bill to raise the cigarette tax $1 per pack late Tuesday night. Lawmakers fear that when the tax hike takes effect, buyers will flood Indian reservations to get the lower-priced cigarettes and undercut state tax collections.

"This is a way to prevent untaxed cigarettes from being sold in our state," said Sen. Thad Altman, a Melbourne Republican who sponsored the amendment in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. "I really don't think the intent is to start throwing folks in jail."

The state now loses about $8.6 million from the sales of 26 million packs of cigarettes sold each year at smoke shops on the Seminole and Miccosukee reservations, according to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Because the tribes are sovereign nations, the state can't prevent them from selling cigarettes and it can't force tribal stores to collect the state tax.

If lawmakers approve the plan to raise the cigarette tax from 34 cents per pack to $1.34 per pack, and impose a $1 per ounce tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco, estimates are that the state will raise about $1 billion. But that does not include the lost revenue from tobacco purchases on tribal land, purchases made on the Internet and from other sources. That amount could soar to more than $68 million.

State economists said Wednesday that the penalties on any nontribal purchasers of the tax-free cigarettes would likely reduce the tax loss by a third or more, because the measure will be hard to enforce.

Currently, wholesalers sell cigarettes to the Indian reservations for retail sales.

Under the Senate plan, they would carry a "Indian cigarettes'' stamp and be restricted in sale to the approximately 3,500 tribal members in Florida. Anyone else caught with a tax-free pack could be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor and fined $1,000 or five times the value of the product seized, whichever is greater.

A spokesman for the Seminole Tribe said the focus on cigarette sales is misplaced when lawmakers could more efficiently spend their time trying to complete the gambling compact between the state and the tribe.

"The tribe respects the Legislature's need to raise more money, but believes it could generate a lot more money by approving the compact," said Gary Bitner, Seminole Tribe spokesman.

The Senate bill also requires that state regulators spend $50,000 on a public awareness campaign alerting smokers that buying tax-free cigarettes from the tribes is illegal. And it encourages the state, as part of the compact, to negotiate revenue sharing on tobacco products in lieu of the new law.

The Senate initially planned to encourage local police to enforce the law by giving law enforcement agencies half the fees collected for any products seized. But several lawmakers balked at the prospect of returning to the days of "cash register justice."

"I urge you to rethink that policy and the far-reaching consequences," said Sen. Alex Villalobos, a Miami Republican. The committee then stripped the enforcement enticement from the bill.

At least one senator suggested that making it illegal to purchase cigarettes from tribal smoke shops was overkill.

"There's some that suggest that maybe our prisons are full of folks because of minor marijuana convictions. Now we're going to have our prisons full of folks that are buying cigarettes?" asked Sen. Carey Baker, a Eustis Republican. "Just wondering what might be the unintended consequences."

The House has not yet taken up the cigarette tax.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at

Florida Senate wants to restrict tax-free tobacco sales at Indian reservations 04/09/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 9, 2009 1:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. N. Korea says strike against U.S. mainland is 'inevitable'


    North Korea's foreign minister warned Saturday that a strike against the U.S. mainland is "inevitable" because President Donald Trump mocked leader Kim Jong Un with the belittling nickname "little rocketman."

  2. All-eyes photo gallery: Florida State Seminoles loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack


    View a gallery of images from the Florida State Seminoles 27-21 loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack Saturday in Tallahassee. The Seminoles will face Wake Forest on Saturday, Sept. 30 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

    Florida State Seminoles fans sing the fight song during the Florida State Seminoles game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on September 23, 2017, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.  At the half, North Carolina State Wolfpack 17, Florida State Seminoles 10.
  3. Helicopter, small aircraft collide at Clearwater Air Park


    CLEARWATER — Two people suffered minor injuries after a helicopter and a small aircraft collided late Saturday afternoon at Clearwater Air Park, 1000 N Hercules Ave.

    Clearwater Fire Department emergency personal douse a plane with fire retardant after the plane crashed into a helicopter at Clearwater Air Park 1000 N Hercules Ave. Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. According to Clearwater Fire two people sustained minor injuries. [Photo by Clearwater Fire Department]
  4. 4-year-old girl, man injured in Clearwater Beach boating crash


    A 4-year-old girl was airlifted with serious injuries after a personal watercraft she was riding on collided with a boat in the Intracoastal Waterway near Clearwater Beach just before 5 p.m. Saturday afternoon.

  5. Hernando Sheriff's Office identifies bank robber killed after chase, places 7 deputies on administrative leave


    Authorities have identified a bank robbery suspect fatally shot by Hernando County sheriff's deputies after a wild chase Friday in which the fleeing suspect rammed several patrol cars in Brooksville.

    Scott Michael Chamberlain, 44, died after a deputy-involved shooting Friday. The Hernando County Sheriff's Office said that Chamberlaine attempted to rob a bank before taking deputies on a pursuit. (Florida Department of Corrections)