Poll: Citizens Want to Tax Discount Cigarette Makers
Nearly two out of three likely voters say a Miami-based discount cigarette maker and others should cough up $200 million a year to combat the effects of smoking, according to a business backed poll released on Monday.
Facing a tight budget and competing with better-known brand cigarette makers that have already agreed to pay billions to the state, a poll commissioned by Associated Industries of Florida indicates voters would not be against imposing a fee on Dosal Tobacco Corp. and other discounters that were not part of a landmark 1997 agreement that continues to generate revenue for the state.
Only one in five opposed levying fees, according to the telephone poll of 801 voters conducted by Zogby International in early December. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
"If the whole point of the tobacco settlement was to ensure we as a state could pay the health care costs of future Medicaid recipients, it only makes sense that all cigarette manufacturers help pay for these costs,” AIF President and CEO Barney Bishop said in a statement. “To most Floridians a cigarette is a cigarette.”
Following a lawsuit, four major U.S. cigarette companies including Reynolds and Phillip Morris reached an agreement in 1997 that increased the cost of their products by about 45 cents a pack. The proceeds were meant to offset the public health expenses caused by smoking related illnesses.
But Dosal, a family owned brand run by Cuban exiles that comprised about 1 percent of the market in the early 1990s, wasn’t a party to the settlement. Dosal contends that the lawsuit was meant to publish the companies that did eventually settle for improper behavior, such as deceiving consumers – something the company says it wasn’t a part of.
By 2008, Dosal brands, led by “305” brand cigarettes, accounted for more than 15 percent of the Florida market. Dosal CEO Yolanda Nader said Monday the company was not part of the lawsuit and shouldn’t be penalized now.
“Dosal was not accidentally left out of the settlement, it was dismissed because it was not a party to the acts that the other tobacco companies were accused of and settled for,” Nader said in a statement. “Those paying into the settlement are doing so for past acts of wrongdoing, not for future health care costs.”
AIF, Nader contends, is acting as a front for big tobacco companies attempting to stop the erosion of market share to cheaper competitors. Increasing taxes on the home-grown company could jeopardize the future of the company that now employs 300 workers.
“This poll, its motives and its findings are all tainted, along with the credibility of those calling for a bail-out tax for Big Tobacco on a company that has paid its taxes and played by the rules," Nader said.
State lawmakers have toyed with the idea of expanding the fee now paid by the Big Four cigarette makers. Previous attempts have been beaten back by the company, founded by Cuban immigrants in the late 1950s.
Though no bill has yet been filed, Senate Finance and Tax Committee chairman Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, told the News Service in November that he would likely file something to close the gap between companies that signed the 1997 settlement agreement and those that didn’t and now command about 20 percent of the Florida market.