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Florida Cities Experience Decline In Tobacco Revenue
Smokers bought fewer cigarettes in Florida last year, decreasing the cigarette tax revenue for the cities, according to an article in the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES. The state cigarette tax is 34 cents a pack, of which nearly 13 cents is divided among the cities. Figures show that Florida collected $468 million in cigarette taxes in 1997-98, but that figure dropped to $439 million last year. The state expects a further decline to about $404 million in the coming year.

Jim Lacross, a state budget analyst, believes a major factor in the declining cigarette consumption has been the increase in cigarette prices imposed by the tobacco companies. Other factors could be state anti-smoking programs, changing tax rates in neighboring states, and a shift in social attitudes towards smoking. Department of Revenue spokesperson David Burns said, "We don't know what the exact answer is. There's a number of factors, but the state is seeing a decline in cigarette sales."

ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, (8/18/99) "Cigarette Tax Revenue Decreasing", Chase Squires, p. 1

Smokescreen Commentary, provided by Advocacy Institute
OH NO! PEOPLE AREN'T SMOKING ENOUGH! -- A Florida newspaper reports on local government officials' complaints that state aid to cities is declining because cigarette tax revenues are down (see News Summaries). Localities are lamenting the budget cuts they'll have to make as a result. Similar arguments are being heard at the state level from officials fearful that declining consumption will reduce payments due the states from the Master Settlement Agreement.

Here, if there ever was one, is a classic case of losing sight of the objective. Reducing tobacco consumption should be a prime objective of government, the first responsibility of which is to protect public health and safety. Instead, many politicians and bureaucrats treat smokers as cash cows who can smoke and pay taxes until they get sick and die, often at public expense.

Apparently, it's up to health advocates to state the obvious: reducing tobacco consumption is a good thing. Government should look not only to lost revenue, but also to the costs it avoids when people don't get prematurely sick and die. If government needs to replace revenue lost from declining consumption, it has a simple solution -- raise the cigarette tax. Because the percentage drop in consumption is lower than the percentage increase in the tax, an excise tax increase will reliably generate substantial additional revenue even though fewer people smoke.

Local advocates should respond quickly to articles like this by seeking placement of an op-ed column or asking for an editorial board meeting, and they should express themselves in the letters to the editor column, being sure to coordinate the letters to make complementary arguments. In a broader context, we should be mindful in all our communications to keep the debate about tobacco control focused on public health. Advocates can send letters directly to the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES at