Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Deutch Cuts Through the Tobacco BS

Senator Ted Deutch (D-Boca Raton) immediately responded today to what he labeled wild and irresponsible assertions of dramatically increased smuggling and bootlegging of cigarettes should the state’s excise tax on this leading killer finally be raised after nearly two decades of inaction by the Florida Legislature. The Boca Raton Democrat, whose legislation, SB 1840, would raise by a dollar the nation’s 6th lowest cigarette tax of 33.9-cents per pack, was particularly rankled by overt suggestions by front groups for the tobacco industry that highly organized and even violent criminal activity would arise merely from having a cigarette excise tax in the neighborhood of the national average.

“It’s one thing to grossly exaggerate the impact of cross-border sales, which common sense dictates would be as minimal here as any state given our geography and population centers,” Deutch remarked. “But it’s absolutely reckless to employ scare tactics on Floridians by inventing an infusion of violent crime in a desperate attempt to fight, of all things, a measure everyone knows will save lives rather than endanger them.”

Senator Deutch acknowledged that, as with any product involving an excise tax, collection is never 100 percent effective. He strongly refuted, however, any claims that tax avoidance measures would negate the expected net revenue gains from an increased levy, as experience in virtually every state raising its cigarette tax has proven these allegations to be patently false. He scoffed at the use of the lone known instance of a state, New Jersey, actually losing revenue, albeit only slightly, from a cigarette tax increase, pointing out that the Garden State already had one of the highest levies in the land when it upped its tax to $2.58 per pack.

“Naysayers here can invoke Sopranos-like images all they want,” Deutch observed, “But it can’t change the fact that Florida has one of the very lowest cigarette taxes to begin with. It also belittles the strong commitment of Florida’s highly capable state and local law enforcement apparatus.”

Deutch indicated that noticeably absent from today’s statements by his bill’s detractors was acknowledgement of a concurrent effort in Georgia to up its existing cigarette tax of 37-cents by a dollar, as well as the significantly increased resources included in SB 1840 to combat wrongdoing. His legislation contemplates an increase of approximately $1.5 million per year for enforcement through the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco. That money, he noted, in addition to being used to shore up any allegedly ‘tobacco porous’ borders and ports, could be relegated to continually upgrading Florida’s cigarette tax stamps to state-of-the-art technology, as well as to enforcement of laws banning tobacco sales to minors. Given that 90 percent of smokers start in their teens or even earlier, a heavy focus should be directed towards keeping cigarettes out of the hands of kids, Senator Deutch maintained.

“Merchant groups seem overly concerned about lower cigarette pack sales due to higher cigarette prices when those same customers that will kick the habit are just as likely to spend their money on less life-endangering products in the very same retail outlets” Deutch said. “More milk in the fridge and more bread on the table is surely a win-win for both the state’s merchants and Florida’s families.”

Lastly, Deutch expressed grave doubts concerning the tobacco industry front groups’ assertions of a projected loss of 2,400 jobs merely due to an increase in Florida’s excise tax on tobacco, calling it a bogus attempt to prey upon the fears of Floridians during troubled economic times, while also noting that passage of his legislation would result in tens of thousands of clean, significantly higher-wage jobs in the research, bio-tech, and health sectors. Even more importantly, he stated, tens of thousands of Floridians would not lose their lives.

“More lives saved, as well as more and better jobs in this economy, in exchange for a higher tax on a deadly product is a trade the vast majority of Floridians are willing to accept,” Senator Deutch concluded.

No comments:

Post a Comment