Articles Tagged with “Florida Tobacco Tax”

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Our firm has been extremely involved with Florida’s wholesale tobacco tax for the past several years. Since Micjo in 2012, the Florida wholesale tobacco tax area has been fraught with seemingly endless litigation. In addition to the Micjo litigation, which focused on whether Florida tax applied to Federal Excise Tax (“FET”), there was another parallel of litigation which centered on a product called a blunt wrap or a cigar wrapper. Florida’s 1stDCA spoke loud and clear on April 6, 2016, by determining that the Wrap product is not subject to Florida tax, which appears to be a giant step towards putting an end towards at least 1 important issue for the industry.
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In December 2006, the Colorado Department of Revenue (“DOR”), on its own volition, unilaterally decided to increase their revenue stream by taxing more tobacco products. Taxpayers were given an FYI Notice stating that all products containing any amount of tobacco would be considered “tobacco products” within the meaning of the statute. When that was challenged in Creager Mercantile Company, Inc. v. Colorado Department of Revenue, the DOR issued a final determination that blunt wraps sold by Creager were “tobacco products” within the meaning of the statute despite not having any authority from the legislature to make such a determination. The taxpayer decided to fight back.
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As an avid sports fan and season ticket holder, I have now become more accustomed to seeing fellow fans smoking vapor products–a battery powered pen-like device that heats liquid nicotine into vapor-in the stadium seats. While some may wonder how people can possibly get away with smoking vapor products at stadium seats, or even at restaurant tables, I often ponder about how the vapor products are taxed at the state level. Are vapor products really tobacco products, are they cigarettes, or are they something completely different, and if so, are vapor products taxed at the wholesale level, as a sales tax, or some combination thereof?
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In 2012, a case shook the tax world for Florida’s wholesale tobacco distributors. Specifically, a case called Micjo was decided in favor of tobacco distributors at Florida’s appellate court level. Micjo taught us that if a taxpayer disagrees with a department’s tax decision, then it should fight for its money that is not due. Since the Micjo ruling, we have been filing refunds for many other tobacco distributors and fighting tax assessments based on the appellate case. After filing several Micjo refund cases, we discovered another Micjo case in Oregon. If the taxpayer is successful then it would put another chink in the armor of the state tobacco taxing agencies.
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As the internet becomes essential to our everyday lives, states are consistently inconsistent in their attempt to tax cloud computing systems. Cloud computing is “the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than a local server or a personal computer.” Essentially, the term “Cloud” is a metaphor for the internet. Cloud computing allows the user to access data over the internet without storing data on a hard drive. In fact, most internet users rely on these cloud computing systems as an essential tool in their everyday lives.

How should a cloud computing provider determine whether their object is subject to sales tax? A simple two-part test may allow a cloud computing provider a proper vantage point on whether they are subject to sales tax. First, apply a test. Second, ask whether the product is a software or a service? Think of this test as a simple flow chart.
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In just another case where the Department of Business and Profession Regulation (“DBPR”) attempts to be larger than the law, a Recommended Order was issued on May 29th, 2015, stopping DBPR in its tracks. In Thompson Cigars, Case No: 14-3471, Judge Alexander agreed with the taxpayer, that DBPR’s inspection authority is not as broad as it thought it was. However shocking it may be to DBPR, Judge Alexander agreed with the taxpayer on both counts raised in this case. The Administrative Complaint, filed by DBPR, alleges that Thompson Cigars, Respondent: (a) failed to produce records of tobacco products sold to persons or business entities in the State of Idaho, and (b) failed to submit a sworn application reflecting that two individuals, not previously disclosed, had a direct or indirect financial interest in the business.
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Over the past few years, we have been intricately involved in ongoing litigation with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (“ABT”). There still remains ongoing litigation in connection with the Micjo issue. Micjo dealt with whether non-tobacco charges, such as federal excise tax and shipping charges, are subject to Florida Other Tobacco Products Tax and the Surcharge on Other Tobacco Products (“OTP Tax”). Down another path there is current litigation in Brandy’s, which deals with cigar wraps, or blunt wraps, which are subject to Florida’s OTP Tax. Recently, however, another case was filed in late 2014 that has a far broader reach than any other case filed to date.
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Over the past few years, taxpayers throughout Florida have been in a never ending battle with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (“ABT”). At the forefront is the Micjo issue. Micjo was a case that determined that Florida wholesale tobacco tax should not apply to the full invoice. Rather, the 85% should only apply to the tobacco while charges and items such as federal excise tax and shipping should not be included in the taxable base. There are 8 pending cases throughout Florida being litigated on this issue. In addition, there are two cases in which the taxpayer has argued that blunt wraps, or cigar wraps, are not included in the tobacco products definition and, are therefore, not taxable. In Brandy’s, a taxpayer received a favorable ALJ opinion spelling out the same.

In response, ABT has attempted to change Florida law. Specifically in Senate Bill 7074, ABT is attempting to fix the Micjo opinion and change the taxable base to include the full price paid by the distributor, including the federal excise tax. The amended law will read as follows:

“Wholesale sales price” means the sum of paragraphs (a) and (b): (a) The full price paid by the distributor to acquire the tobacco products, including charges by the seller for the cost of materials, cost of labor and service, charge for transportation and delivery, the federal excise tax, and any other charges, even if the charge is listed as a separate item on the invoice paid by the established price for which a manufacturer sells a tobacco product to a distributor, exclusive of any diminution by volume or other discounts, including discount provided to a distributor by an affiliate. (b) The federal excise tax paid by the distributor on the tobacco products, if the tax is not included in the full price under paragraph (a).

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It never ceases to amaze me, the wide variety of companies that state agencies attempt to extort money from. I mean, how could a portable toilet company possibly have a sales tax problem? Most states impose a sales tax on the sale or rental of tangible personal property, but do not tax services. From the perspective of a toilet industry, if a venue rents a toilet, it is clearly a rental of tangible personal property subject to tax. If the same venue pays a fee to clean the toilets, then it sounds like a nontaxable service. But what happens when the venue rents the toilet and purchases the cleaning service along with it? In this part tangible personal property rental, part service transaction (known to the sales and use tax attorney as a “mixed transaction”), is only part of the transaction taxable or is the entire charge subject to sales tax? Many states take the incredibly helpful “it depends” approach, and look to an even more helpful “object of the transaction” test. In reality, it truly seems like state agencies and courts reach a conclusion first and fill in the reasons later.
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For the past few years, I have been writing a number of blogs and articles recently discussing the Department of Business and Professional Regulation here in Florida and its potentially unfair audit tactics. Many of you have seen cigar wrappers, or the more scientifically described “blunt wraps,” at convenience stores and gas stations throughout the state and country. Are those items tobacco products subject to Florida’s other tobacco products tax? On January 9, 2015, our first case went to hearing on the taxability of blunt wraps in Brandy’s – Amen Complaint.pdf
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