Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Will bump in Florida cigarette tax gain momentum?

TALLAHASSEE — Tobacco-related illnesses cost Florida taxpayers $1.25 billion a year. To offset the cost, two lawmakers are proposing a new state tax on every form of tobacco, from cigarettes to cigars and snuff.

Senate Finance and Tax Committee Chairman Thad Altman, a Republican from Melbourne, and Sen. Ted Deutch, a Democrat from Boca Raton, lent their bipartisan support to a measure that adds a $1-per-pack surcharge to all cigarettes and $1 per ounce for cigars and smokeless tobacco products. The bill will get its first hearing in Altman's committee today.

While Florida collects about $430 million in cigarette taxes, $30 million in smokeless tobacco taxes and nothing from cigars, it spends three times that on treating sick smokers, said Deutch at a news conference.

"This is a staggering gap that is being subsidized by all of Florida's taxpayers," he said.

Altman called the measure, which has the full support of Senate leadership, "a giant step forward for Florida" because it provides tax fairness "by removing the burden currently borne by nontobacco users, and it begins to close the Medicaid gap."

The revenue generated by the new tax, estimated to exceed $900 million, would go to offset the state's bills for Medicaid — including health coverage for poor and elderly smokers — and be used to draw down more federal health care money, the sponsors said.

Florida now charges 34 cents a pack for cigarettes and, beginning Wednesday, the federal government will raise its cigarette tax by 62 cents a pack.

Altman said Florida was currently 47th in the nation in revenue collected to offset tobacco-related health care costs which, by some estimates, amount to $600 per family for tobacco-related illnesses, or $10 per pack.

Deutch said that Florida's deep budget crunch is partly due to the soaring Medicaid expenses.

"Over time, we've let what the state spends on tobacco related illness get way out of balance with what we take in from users of tobacco," he said.

Altman said the ultimate goal is to fill the gap in the short term but reduce smoking in Florida over time, particularly among young smokers who are most sensitive to price hikes.

"We hope it doesn't raise revenue," he said. "We hope it cuts consumption."

While the support for the tobacco tax seems to be widespread in the Senate, the tobacco industry has turned to the House to halt the measure.

Several tobacco lobbyists met Monday with House Speaker Larry Cretul to explain that a better way to generate revenue from smokers is to impose a fee on cigarette companies like Miami's Dosal Tobacco, that were too small to be included in a 1994 lawsuit against Big Tobacco. Those companies were excluded from a resulting settlement agreement in 1997 that forces Big Tobacco to pay millions to Florida for 25 years.

The tobacco lobbyists argued that if the state were to impose a comparable fee on those companies, state coffers could collect as much as $80 million additional money, and also draw down more federal matching money.

Cretul's chief tax deputy, finance and tax chairwoman Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale, was sympathetic to the lobbyists' argument. Bogdanoff opposes a cigarette tax and told them that if the state raises its cigarette tax, fewer people will buy cigarettes, and that could be bad for retailers.

"Twenty-two percent of all sales in convenience stores are cigarettes," Bogdanoff said.

"We need to look at everything. If they don't go in to buy cigarettes, they don't buy the Coke. They don't buy the chips."

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at

Will bump in Florida cigarette tax gain momentum? 03/30/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 7:11am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect


    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  2. Hopes fade after landslide destroys Chinese village (w/video)


    Crews searching through the night in the rubble left by a landslide that buried a mountain village under tons of soil and rocks in southwestern China found 15 bodies, but more than 110 more people remained missing.

    Vehicles and people line a road leading to the site of a landslide in Xinmo village in Mao County on Saturday in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province. More than 100 people remained missing after the village was buried under tons of rocks and soil.
  3. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  4. Thousands converge in two St. Pete locations celebrating LGBT rights

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom Rockhill didn't know what to expect Saturday, but by noon people were knocking on the door of his bar Right Around the Corner in Grand Central.

    (From left to right) Emma Chalut 18, gets a rainbow sticker on her cheek from her sister Ellie, 15 both of Jacksonville before the annual St. Pete Pride parade in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday. This year the route was changed from the Grand Central and Kenwood area to Bayshore Drive.
[EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  5. Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald dies

    TALLAHASSEE — A former Florida Supreme Court justice, who wrote a decision that prevented lawyers from excluding jurors because of their race, has died.

    Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald died Saturday, the court said in a statement. He was 93.