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SWAT > News and Events > Tax on off-brand cigarettes advances

Today is the 11th day of the 60-day session.

By Times staff writer, Associated Press

Published March 12, 2004

A proposed tax on off-brand cigarettes squeaked through a Senate committee Thursday.

The Regulated Industries Committee passed the bill (SB 2112) 7-5. The 50 cents-a-pack tax would be levied on cigarettemakers that did not participate in a landmark tobacco settlement with Florida. Under that settlement with five major companies, Florida gets $11.3-billion over 25 years for health care programs.

Smaller tobacco companies, which have seen their market share increase sixfold in recent years, now pay nothing to the state. The bill pits the five big companies against myriad small companies.

"Lobbyists are hanging from the rafters like bats," said lobbyist Mac Stipanovich, who represents Brown & Williamson, which supports the bill.

Republican Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland, the bill's sponsor, put it in business terms.

"We are partners in a joint venture with tobacco companies to remedy some of the damage to the public health system by cigarette smoking," she said.

Several of the smaller companies, including Commonwealth, Dosal and American Tobacco, said they might be willing to pay the tax if it also were levied against the big companies.

The bill is still pending in three other Senate committees. Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, voted for the bill.