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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Things are not sunny for convenience store retailers in the sunshine state, as Florida's excise tax on cigarettes rose a dollar today, the Fort Myers News-Press reported.
At a Hess station in Fort Myers, cigarette sales went up dramatically in the days leading up to the new tax. Mariella Magol, a store associate there, told the paper she saw a "big rush" to buy cigarettes Monday.
Just two miles north of the state border, at Hood's Mini Mart in Georgia, store manager Roy Simmons panned to be fully stocked for what he expected to be a flood of Florida tobacco consumers.
At his location, some cartons of cigarettes will be $8 to $10 cheaper than Florida's new prices, while some 10-can rolls of smokeless tobacco could be as much as $20 cheaper at his store, Simmons told the paper.
"We're preparing for it," Simmons said. "We've picked up our inventory. Hopefully, it will pay off for us."
Aaron DeSai, co-owner of a Quick-N-Save in Tallahassee, expected sales at his store to drop, and wondered where his bottom line would land in a business where up to 34 percent of sales are tobacco-related.
"It's going to be tough," DeSai told the News-Press. "We'll have to cut somewhere. Obviously, we have to start with payroll and then inventory."
The sentiment was echoed by Jim Smith, president of the Florida Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association. "We're going to lose jobs because these revenues produce income that pays salaries," he said.
Meanwhile, the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco will coordinate efforts with its counterparts in Georgia and Alabama, as well as with Florida agricultural inspectors to brace for a potential new wave of smuggling, according to the report.
"Any time there is a lower tax in one state than another, this will be a problem," Marie Carpenter, a bureau chief for the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, said in the report. "Auditors and agents will be working together to do investigative audits at the retail level."
Agents will check to make sure that the approximately 1.2 billion packs of cigarettes sold annually in Florida bear the new tax stamp, which includes new security features to prevent counterfeiting, Carpenter told the paper.
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