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Smokers beware: Senate committee passes cigarette tax

The Senate Finance and Tax Committee unanimously voted Tuesday to raise the cigarette tax $1 per pack and increase the tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco $1 per ounce.

Supporters called it an historic opportunity to raise nearly $1 billion in new revenue and use the money to discourage smoking and offset the state’s Medicaid program that pays to treat sick smokers. Opponents warned it would devastate Florida’s hometown cigar business and kill jobs. They called it a shell game based on bogus numbers that won’t realize the savings lawmakers expect.

“You can’t get there from here,’’ warned John French, lobbyist for cigarette maker Altria, formerly Philip Morris. He tried to dismantle the revenue projections lawmakers assumed when passing the bill. “You’re basically victimized by frankly sloppy work by the people who make these numbers.”

Senators defended the proposal, pushed by Democratic Sen. Ted Deutch and Republican Thad Altman. It is expected to win widespread approval in the Republican-led Senate, as lawmakers warm to raising the vice tax.