Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, is a well-known “chaw-er” and dipper in the Legislature. Last session, he was not too happy when colleagues raised taxes on smokeless tobacco products. On Monday, Ritter vented to fellow members of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
It seems the 2009 law — designed to make the generic brands of snuff pay on weight, not price — had the unintended effect of nearly quadrupling the tax of loose-leaf chewing tobacco. So when Dr. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, on Monday laid out his bill to apply the same to tax to “little cigars” as is applied to cigarettes, Ritter was loaded for bear.
“Mr. Zerwas, now that y’all last session raised my chewing tobacco, what’ my cigars going to cost me now?” Ritter (above, 2006 AP photo) asked.
Zerwas assured him that big, premium tobacco products wouldn’t be affected, “just these little cigars that are really cigarettes with brown paper.”
Ritter: “So only my little cigars, the little cutie ones are going to go up? … I tell you what, y’all sure are making my life miserable.”
Quipped Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, “We’re going after beer later.”
During testimony about Zerwas’ little cigars bill, freshman Rep. Lanham Lyne, R-Wichita Falls, coughed and hacked as he recounted taking up Swisher Sweets as a youth. My tape shows Lyne saying:
“I’m a smoker (cough). … I’ve smoked cigars and pipes and cigarettes. And you know (cough), the reality is to me … when I was 16 (cough), I bought Swisher Sweets because they were cheap (cough) and I thought it was sophisticated. But I inhaled them.”
That prompted a lot of testimony about who inhales what, but no action. A raft of tobacco turf-fight bills, plus a big revenue-raising bill by Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, which would add $1.05 a pack to the Texas cigarette tax, were left pending by Chairman Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville.
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