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Tobacco user fee goes into effect

By Staff | Jul 2, 2009

Smokers may now think twice about lighting up as a $1 tobacco user fee went into effect on Wednesday.

The fee was enacted by the Florida Legislature, which had a $3 billion budget shortfall in this year’s session, and is meant to stop people from smoking while raising much needed revenue for the state.

Standard packs of 20 cigarettes will increase by $1, and a 60 percent surcharge will be added to the wholesale price of chewing tobacco or pipe tobacco.

Cigars were not included in the fee after Florida’s $2.1 billion cigar industry lobbied to have them removed from the bill’s language.

Even without revenue from cigar sales, the fee will generate an estimated $950 million, said Sen. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, sponsor of the bill.

While the purpose of the fee is to deter teenagers from smoking and to decrease statewide health costs related to tobacco use, local smokers said they are going to smoke whether or not the price of a pack increases.

Jami Manning, a resident of Cape Coral, said she used to smoke Marlboros until the price per pack became too high. She switched to Marlboro Lights until that price also skyrocketed, and now she smokes a generic brand named 305’s.

Over the years, Manning has tried to quit smoking through various cessation methods including the patch, hypnosis and acupuncture. But at the end of the day, she always returned to smoking

Manning believes most smokers will simply switch to a cheaper brand to offset the new fee.

“Most of the people we know have switched to cheaper brands or will try to quit,” she said.

Recently Manning went to the Cape Smoke Shop and stocked up on eight cartons of cigarettes to weather the upcoming months.

Her friends have spent hundreds of dollars to purchase boxes and cartons of cigarettes in order to save cash in the long run, she said.

Edna Ayers, another local smoker, said she recently quit smoking “cold turkey” for 10 days. She did not use any cessation aids to combat her nicotine cravings.

Nicotine has been classified as one of the most addictive substances. According to the University of Minnesota Division of Periodontology, it is as addictive as heroin.

Smoking cessation aids are designed to assuage the countless withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, anger, loss of sleep or anxiety, but Ayers stopped on her own.

Unfortunately, two weeks later she returned to her habit.

Ayers now smokes USA Gold cigarettes, a low-cost generic brand, and she does not understand why tobacco companies do not distribute cheaper cigarettes to counteract rising government-imposed fees.

“I would love to quit, if someone gave me money to go to a doctor,” she said. “We don’t have medical insurance.”

Many Floridians may want to quit but do not have the emotional support or the financial resources to purchase cessation aids.

The Florida Quitline at (877) U-CAN-NOW (822-6669) connects people with free counseling sessions and helps smokers choose cessation aids. Trained counselors, who speak English and Spanish, assist anyone who contacts the toll-free line.

Local convenience stores posted signs advising people to stock up on cigarettes before the user fee took effect.

The average pack will increase from approximately $5 to $6, and cartons will increase by as much as $10 each.