Articles Tagged with “Tobacco Tax”

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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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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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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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It never ceases to amaze me, the wide variety of companies that state agencies attempt to extort money from. Most states impose a sales tax on the sale or rental of tangible personal property. But what happens when the sale is part tangible personal property, part service (“known to the sales and use tax attorney as a “mixed transaction”)? Is the entire transaction subject to 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 and fill in the reasons later.

By way of brief background, since the mid-1900’s, when states enacted their first versions of a sales tax, many courts created this “object of the transaction” test. The test attempted to formulate what the customer was really buying, product vs service. If it was a service then it is generally not taxable, but if it is a product then it typically is subject to sales tax. For example, if you went to a lawyer for advice and left with a tangible document, like a will, then you were obviously buying a service and the will was incidental. Conversely, if one goes to a restaurant, they are clearly buying the food, not the service involved in a chef using his or her expertise to put a well tasting meal together. Viewing everything in this light, one can make an argument in virtually any item it buys. If you buy a photo are you buying the tangible photo or the artistic service involved in taking or creating the picture? At the dentist’s office are you buying a professional service or the tangible cavity filling when you get your tooth fixed? The list can go on and on.
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What is meant by a “cigarette” in Illinois? This question has been circulating through the tax community since December 2012. In August, 2013, it was reported that Illinois officially changed the definition of a “cigarette” and a “little cigar” for purposes of the Illinois tobacco tax regime. This is a major victory for tobacco products manufacturers and tobacco distributors in the state of Illinois.
As a starting point, Cigar Association of America v. Hamer, Cook County, 12 L 51033 was decided in December, 2012. That case was centered on a trade association arguing that Illinois’ definition of a cigarette was constitutionally invalid because it was too vague. In Illinois, a cigarette was defined as any roll containing tobacco that is suitable for smoking or if it met two of the following criteria:

(a) the product is sold in packs similar to cigarettes;
(b) the product is available for sale in cartons of ten packs;
(c) the product is sold in soft packs, hard packs, flip-top boxes, clam shells, or other cigarette-type boxes;
(d) the product is of a length and diameter similar to commercially manufactured cigarettes (e) the product has a cellulose acetate or other integrated filter;
(f) the product is marketed or advertised to consumers as a cigarette or cigarette substitute; or
(g) other evidence that the product fits within the definition of cigarette.

The association argued that this definition was too broad and successfully obtained an injunction.
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As many are aware, 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 the surface it seems questionable, but after digging into the law and writing about this issue for some time now, the law seems to make it clear.

This was exactly the issue in a recent case,New Image Global Inc – Complaint.pdf. In short, the case was filed by New Image Global for a massive other tobacco tax assessment. The tax, penalty, and interest amounted to $1,082,494 at the time of the Complaint. The Assessment has since been reduced, but the argument still remains the same. The case addresses whether or not cigar wrappers, or their more informal title, blunt wraps, are subject to Florida’s other tobacco tax (“OTP”).
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Part 2 – Is the Tax on The Correct Taxable Base?

This article is a follow up to a previous article I wrote in dealing with tobacco tax audits. In addition to looking at the applicable statute of limitations, any experienced Florida tobacco tax attorney should closely examine the taxable base to which the tax is being applied. Chapter 210 Florida Statutes applies a surcharge and an excise tax on tobacco products. Part I of Chapter 210, F.S. works the same way for the tax on cigarettes. It is simple math; the tax rate times the tax base equals the tax due. Being that the tax rate cannot be changed, a careful examination of the tax base must be undertaken to ensure the smallest amount of tax liability for the Florida taxpayer.

Section 210.01, F.S., defines a cigarette to mean:

any roll for smoking, except one of which the tobacco is fully naturally fermented, without regard to the kind of tobacco or other substances used in the inner roll or the nature or composition of the material in which the roll is wrapped, which is made wholly or in part of tobacco irrespective of size or shape and whether such tobacco is flavored, adulterated or mixed with any other ingredient.

Similarly, section 201.25, F.S., defines a tobacco product as

loose tobacco suitable for smoking; snuff; snuff flour; cavendish; plug and twist tobacco; fine cuts and other chewing tobaccos; shorts; refuse scraps; clippings, cuttings, and sweepings of tobacco, and other kinds and forms of tobacco prepared in such manner as to be suitable for chewing; but “tobacco products” does not include cigarettes, as defined by s. 210.01(1), or cigars.

Should this tax base include shipping or federal excise tax charges because those amounts are included on the invoice?
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Over the past year, we have been involved in more and more Florida Tobacco Tax Audits. With the volume of audits we deal with on a regular basis, we see trends within the state. We also have seen audit after audit in Florida in which the Department of Business and Professional Regulation does not play by the rules. Unlike the Department of Revenue, which has detailed rules and procedures, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (“DBPR”) does not. As a Florida state and local tax attorney who also focuses on Florida alcoholic beverage, cigarette, and tobacco tax, this conundrum can be attributed to the insufficient rules that exist at DBPR and the lack of taxpayer challenges to the audits.
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On its website, DBPR, Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (“FL ABT”) proudly proclaims that there are about 75,000 ABT license holders, and the audit division generates over $1.9 billion in license fees, taxes, and fines in Florida. Despite the huge number of license holders in Florida, there are very few audit challenges with the Department of Professional Regulation and even less litigation. But, are the audits done correctly? Is FL DBPR just that good that it never makes a mistake?
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