Florida - consequences of the $1.00 increase in the cigarette tax..

August 5, 2009 - It’s been a month since cigarette smokers in Florida have been paying more than $6 a pack — and the state says the new $1 tax is on track to net about $1 billion next year.

Amy Baker, coordinator for the Florida Legislature’s Economic & Demographic Research office, said the total in new tax money for July won’t be known until mid-month, but the $899 million predicted for the year in cigarette taxes would more than triple what the state brought in last year on all tobacco products. The state collected $279 million in taxes on all tobacco products last year and generated between $18 million to $22 million per month from taxes on cigarettes alone, Baker said.

That extra buck has many smokers changing, if not quitting their habits, including buying cartons online.

Jim Smith, president of the Petroleum Marketers Association, which represents 5,300 of the state’s 9,200 convenience stores/gas stations, said from his Tallahassee office that the tax is hurting small businesses. The northern border of the state are telling us is that sales here are down 10 to 15 percent,” Smith said, adding that tobacco products account for 34 percent of a convenience store’s sales outside of gasoline.

The reason for the decline doesn’t have much to do with people quitting, Smith suspects. “Certainly some people have chosen not to smoke,” he said. Others, however, are driving across the Florida border to Alabama and Georgia and stocking up. Others are finding Internet sites that offer cartons for as low as $16 compared to the $46 price tag of a store-bought carton, he said.

“People are cutting down. They’re trying to make a pack last longer,” said Sue Burbar, owner of Gas & Shop Food Mart on Hancock Bridge Parkway in Cape Coral. “One of my employees goes outside, smokes a half of a cigarette, puts it out and then finishes the rest later.” Burbar said sales are down 30 to 40 percent.

Beaver, 58, of Fort Myers, has smoked for 45 years. “My smoking habit hasn’t changed, but my living habit has,” she said. “I’m not eating as well as I used to. The only change I’ve seen with my smoking is that I’m now smoking my cigarette right down to the filter.”

Brendan Donohue, the tobacco coordinator at the Lee County Health Department, said it’s too early to determine how many people may have decided to quit after the tax hike, but said it should have a big impact — especially on young people who may not be able to afford to smoke at more than $6 a pack. “If they’re not smoking by 18, we have a good chance at keeping them smoke free for their entire life,” he said.

In the wake of the hike, the department is also changing tactics in curbing smoking. Thanks to a recent $630,000 grant, the Health Department and the Tobacco Free Lee Coalition are targeting hospitals, colleges and universities and encouraging them to be smoke-free. Lee Memorial Health System properties will be smoke-free Nov. 19, Donohue said.

Donohue said the Health Department is offering a quit smoking line — 877-UCANNOW, counseling sessions on the phone, group programs and nicotine replacement therapy.

One place smokers can’t find cheap cigarettes anymore is a Seminole Indian Reservation. Seminole Casino Immokalee closed its smoke shop this spring, said Gary Bitner, spokesman for the Seminole tribe.

Reference: Southwest Florida cigarette sales go up in smoke Gas station business down 30 percent by MARK S. KRZOS, news-press.com, 8/5/2009.