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Proposed cigarette tax increase in Florida sparking debate on the First Coast

9:18 PM, Jan 19, 2014   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Smokers in the Sunshine State may soon be paying more for a pack of cigarettes if a proposed bill is passed. 

The issue is lighting up some debate on the First Coast. 

Benjamin Purdy lives off his lungs and not just in the literal sense, he plays saxophone for a living.

"Well I quit smoking but that's only because I ran out of money. I quit for like four days and I almost lost it. I didn't get anything done," said Purdy.

The money Purdy makes playing the saxophone around Jacksonville helps him pay for the addictive habit he picked up 42 years ago.

"I use cigarettes like a lot of people use coffee," added Purdy.

Purdy already went through one cigarette tax hike in 2009. Now, the same lawmaker, State Rep. Jim Waldman is proposing adding a dollar surcharge to each pack of cigarettes sold, sparking a mix of opinions between smokers and non-smokers. 

"I think that's good because the higher it goes up maybe the people stop smoking because it's not good for them," said Bessie Davis, a nonsmoker. 

Buffy Bogan disagrees. She's been a smoker for eight years and says she doesn't think paying a dollar more will make people quit smoking.

"No, it's not. I'm a smoker and I know my old man he's 67, he's been smoking since he was 17; it's really not going to do anything," said Bogan.

According to TobaccoFreeKids.org, New York has the highest cigarette tax at $4.35. Florida is ranked 27th with $1.34 tax per pack. 

Waldman says adding the surcharge would generate an estimated $838 million a year and would offset costs to scale back motor vehicle registration fees. 

Purdy says he spends anywhere from $50 to $70 a week on cigarettes and if the tax increases it just means more time on the saxophone.

"I don't care how much they cost, I'm going to buy it," he said.

Studies by the National Cancer Institute suggest Jacksonville had the second-highest lung cancer rates in the U.S. in the 1980's. 

The number of smokers in the U.S. has dropped by 14 percent in the last 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Cancer Society indicates that 80 percent of people with lung cancer are or were smokers. 

To give you some perspective, according to the American Cancer Society, after the 2009 tax increase the number of Florida smokers dropped by 27 percent.  That means half a million people quit smoking. 

If House Bill 507 passes, it would go into effect July 1. 

To learn more about the effects of smoking and how quitting could reduce health risks, click here.

The CDC also has more information about how to quit and available resources, click here. 

Follow HB 507 in the Florida Legislature. 

First Coast News

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