Floridians: Pack Tax Is Whack

Smokers want to stamp out tobacco tax

Cig-puffing Floridians are hoping a new tax passed yesterday will go up in smoke.

In a move that supporters say will generate nearly $900 million in new revenue and discourage smokers from lighting up, A Florida Senate committee voted unanimously yesterday to raise taxes on tobacco.

The bill would raise the cigarette tax $1 per pack and increase cigar and smokeless tobacco taxes by $1 per ounce, something local smokers want to see stamped out.

"It's gone too far when it's a part of your budget, when you gotta set money aside to buy something that's gonna kill you," smoker Mike Leach said. "If it'll get me to quit...it's gotta, I can't afford it."

Supportive Senate members are also hoping the taxes put a dent in the funding of the state's Medicaid program.

Opponents of the proposal have expressed doubts over the deal, arguing that the revenue figures are off and that it could destroy the state's cigar business.

"You can't get there from here," John French, lobbyist for cigarette maker Altria, told the Miami Herald. "You're basically victimized by frankly sloppy work by the people who make these numbers."

Gov. Charlie Crist spoke out before yesterday's vote to say that he wouldn't support the bill unless it exempted cigars.

"Obviously that's an industry in Florida that has a great tradition, especially in the Tampa Bay area and probably some other parts of the state," Crist told the Herald. "I would like to see that removed, if possible."

The bill could die by the time the House, which has several tax hike detractors, votes on it. And it's no big secret that tobacco companies, distributors and convenience stores would like to see the proposal go down in flames.

Either way, there's no escaping the federal tax on tobacco which goes into effect today. It raises taxes from 39 cents to $1.01 per pack. A pack currently costs between $5 and $4 in Florida.

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