Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cigar makers upset about tax hike | WINK News - Southwest Florida | Local & Florida

Cigar makers upset about tax hike
By Tami Osborne, WINK News

Story Created: Apr 2, 2009 at 12:48 AM EDT

Story Updated: Apr 2, 2009 at 12:48 AM EDT
LEE COUNTY, Fla. – Cigar makers say a 750% increase in the federal tax on cigars will kill their industry, but others say raising taxes on all tobacco products, including cigars, is the best way to hold smokers accountable for the health problems second hand smoke can cause.

Wednesday’s federal cigar tax change raises the tax on a single cigar from five cents to 40 cents per cigar. That’s an increase of ten dollars for a box of 25.

"I can't afford it anymore. I'm just an average worker. I make an average worker, and I like a few things. I can't even smoke anymore. I mean it feels like the government is trying to tell me what to do," Chris Hamilton says.

Smokers aren’t the only ones fuming over today’s tobacco tax increases. Bonita Springs based cigar maker Rocky Patel says this tax could put him out of business.

"I don't mind paying our fair share, but I don't think we should be penalized to a point where it devastates our whole industry,” Patel says.

The federal tobacco tax increases might not be all.

Patel’s employees spent Wednesday on the phone making pleas to Florida lawmakers who are looking to tack on a one dollar per ounce tax of their own. Patel says that would mean another dollar per cigar.

"Over night with the swish of a pen, they're going to try to take this away from me, and I'm going to fight because you know, it’s not fair,” he says.

But, Patel says he understands the health risks of cigarettes and why lawmakers want to increase those taxes, but he believes cigars should be exempt.

"This is a cigar that adults enjoy on an occasion. Just like they enjoy a fine glass of wine,” Patel explains.

Anti-tobacco activists say that’s not true.

"They're all tobacco. They're all just as deadly and they all create second hand smoke,” Keran Kronseder-Vogt of the Lee County Coalition for Drug Free Southwest Florida.

That’s why groups like the American Lung Association say the new taxes are a step in the right direction.

"We hope it will encourage people out there to say I know it’s not good for me. It’s costing so much. These are not good times. I have better things to do with my money,” the American Lung Association’s Kurt Goerke says.

Patel says he’s speaking with other cigar industry leaders and he plans to continue fighting the state’s proposals.

Cigars are a $2 billion industry in Florida, and Patel says the impact of these taxes could leave thousands of people out of work.

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